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What is a Healthy Pregnancy Diet for Obese Women?
In previous articles we have discussed the value of reaching a healthy weight before planning a pregnancy. However, life doesn't always go according to recommendations. If you are overweight or obese and pregnant, what does a healthy diet look like for you?

Thinking About Getting Pregnant? Think about your weight.
One important step you can take to help ensure a healthy pregnancy is to consider your weight before even getting pregnant. Obesity has major effects on placental, embryonic, and fetal growth. Obese mothers are more likely to have large for gestational age (LGA) babies than lean moms, no matter how much weight they gain during pregnancy.

A Healthy Pre-Pregnancy Diet and Gestational Diabetes
Gestational Diabetes (GDM) can have long-term and short-term complications for both mother and baby. While early detection and treatment can help prevent some of those complications, prevention is always preferable. Unfortunately, the rate of gestational diabetes in the United States is approximately 7% and is increasing as obesity among childbearing women rises.


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Disturbing News for Overweight Mothers-to-Be

By now you are no doubt aware that being overweight puts you at increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other conditions. Women who are pregnant and overweight, however, are at risk for even more conditions, including gestational diabetes, high blood pressure disorders such as eclampsia, and a greater risk of Cesarean section. They tend to give birth to larger babies, in addition, which leads to a higher risk of birth difficulties and a higher risk of infant death.

But does a mother's weight status have an effect on the child's development while in the womb? Researchers in the United Kingdom recently published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA 2009;301(6):636-650) which assessed the effects of maternal overweight on the risk of genetic defects in the infant.

They began by identifying eighteen studies that included pregnant women, measured the women's weight or Body Mass Index, and reported on the existence of genetic defects in their babies. When the researchers compared the outcomes for women who started their pregnancy at a normal weight with those of women who were overweight or obese at the start of their pregnancy, they found that overweight/obese women were significantly more likely to have children with:

  • A neural tube defect, including spina bifida (87% more likely for obese mothers, 20% more likely for overweight mothers);
  • Heart defects (30% more likely for obese mothers, 17% for overweight mothers)
  • Cleft palate and cleft lip and palate (20-23% more likely for overweight or obese mothers);
  • Malformed or closed rectum (48% more likely for obese mothers, no increased risk for overweight mothers);
  • Hydrocephaly (“water on the brain”) (68% more likely for obese mothers, no increased risk for overweight mothers);
  • Limb reduction (when a limb or part of a limb fails to form completely: essentially, missing limbs) (34% more likely for obese mothers, no significantly increased risk for overweight mothers).

What this means for you

Some of these genetic defects can be successfully treated with surgery, but others can not. If you are thinking about getting pregnant, don't risk the health of your child, or your own. Make sure your weight is within recommended limits by eating right and getting enough exercise.

First posted: June 10, 2009