Because of all the cultural associations surrounding women and their weight, the topic of weight gain during pregnancy can be a sensitive one. This makes sense, but since too much weight gain during pregnancy poses a variety of risks to both a mom and her developing baby, it’s important to keep an eye on weight gain throughout pregnancy, and if a healthcare provider recommends it, make healthy lifestyle changes to slow down or speed up weight gain.
Do a lot of women gain too much weight?
It’s hard to define ‘a lot’, but researchers have found that only a minority of pregnant women gain weight that falls within the official recommendations. In a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control, 21% of the participants didn’t gain enough weight during their pregnancies, and 48% of the participants gained too much weight. Only 32% stayed within the healthy guidelines.
Women with high pre-pregnancy BMIs are especially at risk of gaining more weight than the official recommendations by the Institute of Medicine. A study from the National Institutes of Health found that women with high BMIs tended to exceed the weight gain recommendations more often than women who entered pregnancy with average BMIs.
The risks associated with too much weight gain
Excessive weight gain during pregnancy can put women and their babies at risk of the following:
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure that arises during pregnancy, known as gestational hypertension, affects around 8 in 100 women and can lead to other complications like premature birth and preeclampsia. The more weight that’s gained, the harder the heart has to work to pump blood through the body, which can make hypertension more likely with high weight gain.
- Preeclampsia and eclampsia: Preeclampsia and eclampsia are serious conditions that are characterized by hypertension, and often very significant hypertension, and organ damage. Preeclampsia and eclampsia can be very dangerous for pregnant mothers, and significantly increase the likelihood of delivering early, whether by induction or not. Many hospitals admit women with preeclampsia for the duration of their pregnancies.
- C-section: Women who gain too much weight during pregnancy are at an elevated risk of delivering by C-section.
- Gestational diabetes/impaired glucose tolerance: As is the case with regular diabetes, gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) involves the body having trouble converting blood sugar into energy. GDM raises a woman’s risk of other pregnancy complications, like having a baby who is large for gestational age (LGA), and needing a C-section, as well as her future risk of GDM in another pregnancy and of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
- Labor problems: Women who gain extra weight during pregnancy have a higher risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and preterm birth than those who gain within the recommended range.
- Weight retention after pregnancy: Women who gain an excessive amount of weight in pregnancy have a harder time losing pregnancy weight after they give birth. This raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as the risk of complications like cardiovascular disease or obesity.
Risks for the baby
Babies whose mothers gain excessive amounts of weight during pregnancy are at an increased risk of a few different complications. Most of these relate to being large for gestational age, which means these babies are also gaining too much weight. Being LGA means an elevated risk of preterm birth, certain birth defects, and requiring to be born by C-section. Other problems may not be as apparent or active at the time of birth, but may develop in the future. These include a heightened risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity later on in life.
Healthcare providers now know just how serious the risks of gaining too much weight during pregnancy are, so it’s important to take care to keep weight gain falling within a healthy range. Keeping to a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise are two of the best things you can do to help pace your pregnancy weight gain. If you’re concerned that you’re gaining too much weight, it can be helpful to speak with your healthcare provider, as they’ll know just as well as anybody how much weight you as an individual should be aiming for.
- “Weight Gain During Pregnancy.” CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oct 2016. Web. Accessed 7/11/17. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-weight-gain.htm.
- Eoin Noctor, Fidelma P Dunne. “Type 2 diabetes after gestational diabetes: The influence of changing diagnostic criteria.” World J Diabetes. 6(2): 234–244. Web. Mar 2015.
- “Consequences of Gestational Weight Gain for the Mother.” Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Reexamining the Guidelines. National Academies Press (US); 2009. Web. Rasmussen KM, Yaktine AL, editors. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK32818/.
- “Being overweight during pregnancy.” MarchofDimes. March of Dimes Foundation, Aug 2015. Web. Accessed 7/11/17. Available at http://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/being-overweight-during-pregnancy.aspx.