Obesity During Pregnancy: Risks and Health Measures

Eating the right kind and quantity of food is essential during your pregnancy in order to ensure that the nutritional needs of your developing baby are met. Doctors generally encourage a small amount of weight gain in pregnant women. However, if you are already obese, is it safe to gain weight during pregnancy? Body mass index (BMI) value is calculated based on your weight and height and a BMI value of 30 and above indicates obesity. Is being obese a risk factor for complications associated with your pregnancy?

What Are the Risks If You Are Obese and Pregnant?

A high BMI value indicating obesity can increase your risk of suffering from complications during pregnancy. Following are some of the complications that can occur due to obesity during pregnancy:

Your baby can also be affected because of your high BMI. Some of the complications that your baby can suffer include:

Should You Lose Weight During Pregnancy If You Are Obese?

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) strongly recommend that you should not attempt to lose weight during pregnancy even if you had been overweight or obese when you got pregnant. However, studies have shown that you will have less risk of having a C-section and delivering an overweight baby, if you gain lesser weight than that recommended by IOM. However, this is recommended provided your doctor confirms that your baby is growing normally.

Studies have also shown that in obese and overweight pregnant females, the fetal development is normal even if they gain less body weight than the recommended values (for instance, weight gain of 6- 14 pounds instead of 15-25 pounds). It has also been found that their post-partum weight retention is also less. It is recommended that if you are obese and pregnant, you should consult your doctor about the ideal range of weight you should gain and if it is okay to gain lesser weight than what is recommended. The general guidelines for obesity and weight gain during pregnancy are:

Can I Still Have a Healthy Pregnancy If I Am Obese?

There are several risks associated with being pregnant while you are obese. However, by taking certain precautions you can still have a normal and healthy pregnancy. Some of the things to consider if you are obese include:

Measures You Should Take to Ensure a Normal Pregnancy

Here are some helpful tips to prevent obesity from adversely affecting your pregnancy:

Make Regular Visits to Your Doctor for Prenatal Care 

Frequent and regular prenatal consultations with your doctor will help your doctor monitor your health and your baby’s health carefully. Further, talk to your doctor about any health problems you have such as diabetes, sleep apnea and high blood pressure. He might suggest medications and ways to manage or treat these conditions so that they might not cause complications during your pregnancy. 

Eat Nutritious and Healthy Foods

If you are obese and pregnant discuss a diet plan with your doctor or a registered dietician so you can eat a nutritious diet without gaining excess weight. Folic acid, calcium, iron and certain other essential nutrients are required for a healthy pregnancy, which can be supplemented by consuming a prenatal vitamin. Talk to your doctor or dietician if you are diabetic and require a special diet plan.

Stay Physically Active

Talk to your doctor about simple exercises you can perform and other ways to be physically active that are safe for you.

Avoid Smoking and Substance Use

If you are addicted to smoking, alcohol or illicit drugs, you should quit during your pregnancy and get treated for your addiction. Talk to your doctor before you start a de-addiction program or any medication for your addiction.

Have Early Test for Gestational Diabetes

Generally pregnant women who have a moderate risk of developing gestational diabetes are subjected to the glucose challenge test at 24 – 28 weeks of pregnancy. However, in case of women who are obese, they are tested for gestational diabetes during the early stages of their pregnancy. They are screened for gestational diabetes even during their first prenatal visit.

If the tests are normal, they are again tested at 24 – 28 weeks of pregnancy. If your initial tests are positive, then your doctor will recommend further testing to confirm the diagnosis. In case you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your doctor will advise dietary modifications and regular blood sugar monitoring throughout your pregnancy.

Have Delayed Ultrasound Test for Monitoring the Fetus

Generally ultrasound tests are advised for pregnant women during week 18 – 20 of their pregnancy to monitor fetal development. As ultrasound waves cannot easily penetrate abdominal fat, ultrasound monitoring of fetal development is not effective in case of obese pregnant women during early pregnancy. In such cases, ultrasound results will be more accurate if done during the later stages of pregnancy. For obese and pregnant women, ultrasound tests are recommended during week 20 – 22 of pregnancy.

Detect Congenital Heart Defect

Your doctor will recommend fetal echocardiogram between 22 – 24 weeks of pregnancy. Fetal echocardiogram is a useful tool that will provide an image of your baby’s heart and will facilitate an early detection of congenital heart defects.

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