Why Inadequate Pregnancy Weight Gain Is Dangerous for Infants
Researchers find new, disturbing evidence on infant mortality to support pregnancy weight gain recommendations
Talk show host-turned-author Ricki Lake has famously battled her weight throughout her adolescence and adulthood. But as a baby, she was actually quite small–as a full-term newborn, she weighed just 5 pounds.
Her small size at birth, she has suggested in media interviews, may be linked to her mother’s minimal weight gain during pregnancy. Lake’s mother gained just 11 pounds and dieted during her pregnancy, Lake wrote in her memoir, Never Say Never: Find a Life That Fits.
In at least one sense, Lake and her mother were fortunate. Though researchers have been warning for years that inadequate gestational weight gain can lead to babies with lower birth weights, a new study reveals a more frightening consequence: Gaining an insufficient amount of weight during pregnancy increases the chance that a baby will die in his first year of life.
“Our study showed that gaining too little weight during pregnancy is a risk factor for infant mortality for all but the heaviest women,” Dr. Regina Davis, associate executive director of the American Public Health Association, said in a statement released by the University of Maryland.
Davis and two colleagues from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health analyzed information on nearly 160,000 women who gave birth between 2004 and 2008. They found that the infant mortality risk for mothers who gained adequate or excess weight during pregnancy hovered around 1 percent–1.2 percent for the adequate weight gainers and 0.7 percent for those who gained too much. But the infant mortality risk for those who put on too few pounds was nearly 4 percent.
The only women who didn’t see an increased risk from inadequate weight gain were obese women. Even overweight women, according to researchers, saw “a two-fold elevation in the risk of mortality” when their weight gain didn’t meet health guidelines.
Nearly a quarter of the women in the study gained too little weight during their pregnancies while 41 percent gained too much.
The Institute of Medicine recommendations for weight gain during pregnancy are:
- 28 to 40 pounds for underweight women.
- 25 to 35 pounds for normal weight women.
- 15 to 25 pounds for overweight women.
- 11 to 20 pounds for obese women.
The results of the Maryland study were published in The American Journal of Public Health.
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