If you gain more weight than your doctor recommends during pregnancy, it can be hard to shed after you give birth. And you might pack on even more pounds after the baby comes if you find it difficult to work regular exercise into your daily routine and have a hard time saying “no” to fast food and pick-me-up snacks.
But getting your weight under control is important both for your health and the health of your child.
While it’s well known that being overweight raises the risk of a host of health problems, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, there’s now evidence a mom’s excess pounds puts her offspring at risk of being overweight.
Previous research has documented that women who gain too many pounds during pregnancy are more likely to have overweight children. But a study from the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands revealed women who put on a significant amount of weight after pregnancy were also more likely to have overweight children.
The Utrecht research team studied 3,367 children born in or after 1996 in the Netherlands and found the youngsters’ mothers who gained excessive weight during pregnancy were often still overweight years later. About a third of these moms were deemed “excessively overweight.”
Whether the mothers were overweight during or after pregnancy, they were likely to have youngsters who were also significantly overweight or obese by age 14. This is a serious concern because overweight youngsters, especially when they hit adolescence, are more likely to have bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, psychological problems, and an increased risk of developing diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Childhood obesity rates have soared over the over the last decades. In fact, CDC statistics show that one out of six children and adolescents in the U.S. are now obese. Exactly why pregnancy weight gain is linked to children being overweight remains unknown — but genetics alone doesn’t account for excess pounds in many kids, according to Leni van Rossem, who headed the study, and her colleagues.
Instead, lifestyle and a kind of intrauterine programing are believed to play roles in childhood weight gain. For example, Rossem suggests that if a pregnant woman eats an excessive amount of sugar, it passes through the placenta and may “program” the unborn baby’s metabolism to respond to a high-sugar diet after birth, contributing to excessive weight gain.
Although how much an expectant woman should weigh during pregnancy varies depending on baseline weight and health, the Institute of Medicines guidelines advise that most women at a healthy normal weight prior to pregnancy should gain only between 25 and 35 pounds over the course of nine months. If you don’t shed these pounds — and possibly gain more — within a year of giving birth, you raise your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to a study from Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.
Researchers followed 305 expectant moms who were patients at Mount Sinai Hospital throughout their pregnancies and during the year after the women gave birth. After 12 months, about 75 percent of the women had lost at least some of their “baby weight,” and tests showed they had maintained healthy levels of cholesterol and normal blood pressure. But one quarter of the women studied gained weight over the course a year, and these moms experienced a significant increase in risk factors for both diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
"With these results, we can say that failure to lose weight between three and 12 months postpartum will cause blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin action in the body to move in an unhealthy direction,” said endocrinologist Ravi Retnakaran, MD, who headed the research. “This finding helps us advise women about the importance of losing their excess pregnancy weight in the first year after delivery.”
February 15, 2016
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA