Weight Gain During Pregnancy Feeds the Obesity Epidemic

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
August 23, 2017

If you were too heavy and kept some of your weight gain during pregnancy, you’re like most American women, caught in a dangerous cycle.

Pregnancy is feeding the U.S. obesity epidemic, putting both mothers and children at risk of a long list of health problems.

Most American women are overweight when they become pregnant, most don’t exercise during pregnancy, most gain too much, and most hold on to their weight gain during pregnancy.

Then the process starts all over again with the next child. No wonder you feel like you’ll never ever get back into your old jeans.


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Some 70 percent of overweight American women and 64 percent of obese women pack on too much during pregnancy, research suggests, increasing their chances of problems like preeclampsia or needing a blood transfusion.

The cycle affects your child’s weight as well. In a review published in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, too much weight gain during pregnancy nearly doubled your risk of bearing a baby bigger than 8 lbs. and 3 ounces. These oversize babies are more likely to struggle with weight problems over the years.

Too much weight gain during pregnancy is a problem for kids even if the mother isn’t overweight. In a large 2012 German study published in PLOS ONE, researchers concluded that those extra pounds were associated with a 28 percent greater chance that a five- or six-year-old was overweight, even with a normal-weight mother.

How much weight should I gain during pregnancy?

Overweight women should gain 15 to 25 pounds, and obese women no more than 20, which puts the recommended average weight gain during pregnancy at a half a pound a week, according to the guidelines from the Institute of Medicine. Aim to lose extra weight before you conceive, notes Aaron Caughey, MD, who treats at-risk pregnant women at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

Exercise for pregnant women

At any weight, aim for at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week. Even obese women and women with high blood pressure or gestational diabetes may safely exercise, a 2017 jointly-authored opinion piece published in JAMA argues.

But sadly, some 60 percent of American pregnant women don’t have an exercise program. Even if you’ve been a couch potato all your life, pregnancy isn’t a bad time to start moving, and the thought of giving your baby a good start may inspire you. Ask your doctor if you’re concerned about safety.

Don’t count on picking up better habits after the birth. In a five-site U.S. study, about 75 percent of the volunteers hadn’t gone back to their pre-pregnancy weight a year later. Nearly half had kept 10 extra pounds, and 24 percent had kept 20 pounds. You might expect to get back to normal if you were a normal weight when you became pregnant. In this study, among the 40 percent of the volunteers who had become pregnant at a normal weight, a third of them was obese or overweight a year after the birth.  

After you give birth, keep up the exercise. Find a way to stay focused. In Los Angeles, “Choose Health LA Moms” sends new mothers texts three times a week for three months, urging them to breastfeed, walk, and drink water. On average, moms in that program lost nearly all their pregnancy gain. Joining a class or finding other moms who like to work out and eat healthily will give you a push and support.


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April 07, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN