American women are gaining more body fat—and so are their babies, according to a new study on newborn and maternal body fat composition from researchers at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas. Presented May 4, 2010, before an annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, the study of more than 74,000 births found that body fat composition in newborns increased dramatically from 1990 to 2005, mirroring similar increases among pregnant mothers.
Researchers also note that newborn body fat composition and body mass index (BMI) correlated with a mother's BMI—overweight moms-to-be tended to have babies with more body fat, while leaner moms tended to have leaner babies.
Because there have been so few studies on newborn body fat and risk of childhood obesity, researchers right now can only question whether the path to obesity may begin as early as in the womb.
Still, "healthcare providers need to pay closer attention to the body mass index of women before they get pregnant, and equal attention to how much weight they gain during the pregnancy," says lead investigator Dr. Felix Okah, as quoted in a Science Daily article on the study. "Adult diseases like obesity may have their foundation during the fetal period, so efforts to safeguard the health of the fetus could translate to future adult health for these newborns."
For women, this means it may be more important than ever to enter pregnancy at a healthy weight—and keep prenatal weight gain to within recommended amounts. What's right for you? Your doctor or midwife can best tell you how much weight to gain during pregnancy, based on your own BMI and other health factors.