Being overweight or obese before and during pregnancy puts you and your baby at risk for these serious problems.
If you are overweight or obese, you probably know you’re at risk for certain diseases. Pregnant women, take note: If you’re overweight before or during pregnancy, you’re putting your baby at risk too.
How do you know if you are overweight or obese?
Before you become pregnant, you can check your body mass index (BMI). BMI is a height-to-weight ratio. BMI tells you if you are at a healthy weight for your height:
- Underweight: less than 18.5
- Normal: 18.5 to 24.9
- Overweight: 25 to 29.9
- Obesity: 30 or higher
The BMI is not accurate, though, if you are already pregnant.
Complications for the mother
Overweight women are at a higher risk for the following problems during pregnancy:
- Gestational hypertension. This is high blood pressure that develops during the second half of pregnancy. It is not the same as preeclampsia.
- Preeclampsia. This is a condition that consists of high blood pressure and protein in the urine that typically starts after the 20th week of pregnancy. It is a dangerous condition for both the mother and baby. In some cases, the baby may have to be delivered early. If not treated, preeclampsia can lead to an even more serious condition called eclampsia.
- Gestational diabetes. This occurs when the body has trouble controlling its blood glucose levels during pregnancy. This type of diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born. But about half of women who have gestational diabetes go on to develop diabetes later in life.
- Cesarean delivery (c-section). C-sections are needed more often in obese women. The higher the woman’s BMI, the greater the chance she will need a c-section. Obese women may have a longer and harder time recovering from a c-section than women of a healthy weight. They also run an increased risk of getting an infection in their abdominal incision.
Risks for the baby
Babies born to obese or overweight mothers are at a greater risk for:
- Birth defects, especially neural tube defects
- Premature birth
- Neonatal death (death during the first 28 days of life)
- Large weight at birth
- Obesity or overweight in childhood
How to have a healthy pregnancy
Before pregnancy: The best thing you can do is get to your ideal weight before becoming pregnant. Let your doctor know you are thinking about becoming pregnant. Then work with your doctor and a registered dietician to design a good weight loss plan if needed.
During pregnancy: If you are already pregnant and overweight or obese, do not start dieting. Omitting foods from your diet can deprive your baby of nutrients he or she needs to grow. But, eating for two does not mean eating twice as much food as you were before you were pregnant. Most pregnant women (who are carrying a single baby) only need about an extra 300 calories per day for the last 6 months of pregnancy. You may even need less if you were overweight before becoming pregnant. Work with your doctor and registered dietician to create a healthy eating plan. The Institute of Medicine has outlined the following weight gain goals.
|BMI before pregnancy||Recommended weight gain during pregnancy|
|19.8 or lower||28 to 40 pounds|
|19.8 to 26||25 to 35 pounds|
|26.1 to 29.9||15 to 25 pounds|
|Higher than 30||11 to 20 pounds|
Ask your doctor what your ideal weight gain should be.
Follow these tips before you get pregnant and during pregnancy:
- Take folic acid to prevent birth defects. Take 400 mcg of folic acid every day for the 3 months before you get pregnant and for the first trimester of pregnancy. Doctors advise that all women of childbearing age take 400 mcg of folic acid daily, as many pregnancies are unplanned. You can get folic acid through supplements or foods, such as spinach, broccoli, beans and fortified breads and cereals.
- Get vaccinated. Women who are thinking about becoming pregnant should be sure that they have been vaccinated against certain diseases – such as chickenpox or rubella – to protect their baby. If they have not, they should be vaccinated before they become pregnant. They should then avoid getting pregnant for at least 4 weeks after getting the injection. However, pregnant women can receive the flu vaccine and it will not harm the baby. Check with your doctor about which vaccinations you need and when is the best time to get them.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Limit foods high in fat, cholesterol and salt.
- Exercise regularly if your doctor approves. Ask your doctor about a safe activity level for you and your baby.
Do not smoke, drink alcohol or take street drugs. These substances can harm you and your baby.