Can my pregnancy weight influence whether or not my kid(s) will be obese later in life?
Yes, some compelling research has surfaced recently suggesting that women who gain too much weight during pregnancy may have children who will become overweight later in life. A 2007 Harvard Medical School study, headed by lead author Dr. Emily Oken, MD, and published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, explains that women should be given guidelines on pregnancy weight gain based on BMI (body mass index, which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight) rather than follow a one-size-fits-all diet approach.
Dr. Oken's study found that women who gained more than the advised amount of weight were four times more likely (than women who gained less weight than advised) to have a child who becomes overweight by the age of three.
Eat Better, Not More, During Pregnancy
The results of this study don't mean that you should be cutting calories during your pregnancy. Instead, shift your focus to eating well and taking care of your body. Pregnancy can be a wonderful time to adopt healthy eating habits as well as a regular, low-impact exercise routine. (Take our pregnancy eating quiz and check out our pregnancy fitness slideshow for more info on staying healthy all nine months and beyond.)
Low weight gain in pregnancy may lead to a low birth weight baby, which can be unhealthy. Conversely, gaining too much weigh can produce a large baby, which causes difficulties delivering vaginally and may lead to a higher rate of Cesarean section. Large weight gains can also make losing weight difficult for Mom and lead to a host of additional health problems.
The Harvard Medical School study ruled out the mother's lifestyle and eating habits as a contributing factor to the child's obesity, and instead stressed prenatal factors. Dr. Oken adds, "Because childhood obesity is increasing in prevalence and effective treatment remains elusive, preventing childhood obesity remains critical. The Institute of Medicine may need to reevaluate its recommendations for weight gain in pregnancy, considering not only birth outcomes but also the risk of obesity for both mother and child."
Current Recommendations for Pregnancy Weight Gain
- Underweight pre-pregnancy weight: 28-40 pounds
- Normal pre-pregnancy weight: 25-35 pounds
- Overweight pre-pregnancy weight: 15-25 pounds
So, what's an expectant woman to do? Eat healthy, exercise, and talk with your doctor about what the right amount of weight is for you to gain in pregnancy based on your own BMI. According to Dr. Oken's study, staying on the lower end of the recommend range for weight gain may be one of the best ways to maximize your chances for a safe delivery and a healthy baby.