Ask The Specialist (Aug. 2011)

Will Your Weight Harm Your Baby? Studies Say Maternal Obesity Puts Newborn Health at Risk


Reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes and hypertension are all good reasons to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. But for women who are pregnant or considering getting pregnant, there’s another reason: It’s good for your baby.


The Harm

Recent studies have found that maternal obesity increases the risk of premature births, stillbirths, pregnancy complications like preeclampsia and birth defects like spina bifida. Babies born to obese women are also more likely to be larger than normal, increasing the incidence of birth trauma and emergency cesarean section deliveries.


Scientists don’t fully understand why a mother-to-be’s extra pounds increase the risk of birth defects, but they theorize that it may be connected to undiagnosed diabetes, a diet lacking in the essential nutrients for a healthy pregnancy or problems with ultrasound monitoring related to the mother’s weight, because when sounds must penetrate a lot of tissue, the images become less clear.


What To Do

If you are considering becoming pregnant, it is recommended that you prepare appropriately by losing excess weight, getting checked for high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, seizures and thyroid disease and taking a vitamin with folic acid every day.


Ideally, the time to get fit is before you become pregnant. But if you are pregnant and obese, there are still things you and your healthcare provider can do to work toward a healthy pregnancy and delivery.


Get prenatal care if you have not already.

If overweight, keep pregnancy weight gain to 15 to 25 pounds.

  If diagnosed as obese, keep pregnancy weight gain to 11 to 20 pounds, or less if recommended by your obstetrician.

Eat six ounces of grains per day,

2.5 cups of vegetables, 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit, 3 cups of lowfat or skim milk, and 5 to 5.5 ounces of protein per day; avoid fatty foods.

Take a multivitamin that includes 400 micrograms of folic acid and eat a diet that includes good sources of folic acid such as fortified breakfast cereals, beans, leafy green vegetables, orange juice and enriched grains.


If you have had gastric bypass or gastric band surgery:


Get preconception counseling with a high-risk obstetrician, if possible.

Get prenatal care as early as possible.

Be screened for vitamin deficiencies so arrangements can be made to supplement your diet via oral vitamins or injections.


The bottom line for obstetricians as well as women considering pregnancy, or already pregnant and overweight, is that a mother’s weight should be taken  seriously because it can affect pregnancy outcomes.


Heather Brumberg, M.D., is a neonatologist at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital and the Coordinator of the Regional Perinatal Center of Westchester Medical Center. www.WorldClassMedicine.com/MFCH.