Worth the weight
Healthy weight gain during pregnancy
We all know that pregnancy and weight gain go hand and hand. In this world, weight gain has become a bad word. Are we losing our focus on what a healthy weight gain during pregnancy means for the health of
the baby and the mother?
Recent trends in Calgary have sparked the concern of Calgary’s Medical Health Officer – the fact that 13-26 percent of Canadian women are underweight, 36 percent of Calgary women are overweight or obese and that there is an elevated trend in Calgary for babies to be born of low birth weight.
Research shows that women who do not gain sufficient gestational weight are three times more likely to have a low birth weight baby or a preterm birth (birth prior to 37 weeks gestation). Low birth weight is defined as a birth weight less than 2500 grams (5.5 pounds). This is significant, as low birth weight babies are at an increased risk to experience more health problems than babies born of an appropriate birth weight.
Although numerous low birth weight babies have normal outcomes, many often grow poorly and have a much higher risk of dying or being very sick. Some of the consequences of low birth weight include mild problems in cognition, attention and neuromotor functioning. Further research suggests that in adulthood these children are at an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, non-insulin dependent diabetes as well as obesity.
Is more weight gain better? Does this mean that every pregnant woman can gain uncontrollably? After all, she is eating for two – right? WRONG! Women who gain an excessive amount of pregnancy weight not only place themselves at risk, but also their unborn child. Complications such as pregnancy-induced high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia), and gestational diabetes are common among women who gain too much weight during pregnancy.
More recent evidence further suggests that maternal weight gain is a strong contributor to the growing crisis of obesity in the population. Perhaps even more concerning, and less well known, is the relationship between maternal and childhood obesity. Research has shown that compared with women who had adequate weight gain during pregnancy, women with excessive maternal weight gain had children with high body mass index scores and increased risk of obesity. Rates of childhood obesity are increasing in Calgary with recent figures indicating that 22 percent of children and adolescents are obese and eight percent are overweight. What we must therefore understand is that initiatives to support healthy weight in women of childbearing age are not only a reproductive health issue, but are also necessary to support overall health of the population.
So what exactly constitutes healthy weight gain? Health Canada has a gestational weight gain guideline that has been adapted from the Institute of Medicine. It provides the most current information on gestational weight gain. Based on these guidelines, some women need to gain more weight (underweight or low pre-pregnant BMI) and some women need to gain less gestational weight (overweight and obese pre-pregnant BMI). Most often, women need to gain between 25-35 pounds (11.5-16 kilograms) during their pregnancy. Each woman is different. That’s why it is of the utmost importance that women approach their health care providers – preferably prior to pregnancy – for an individual assessment to determine an ideal pre-pregnant BMI and an appropriate, individual range of gestational weight gain.
Healthy gestation weight gain factors
First and foremost, is to know what weight gain is right for you. Every pregnancy is unique and so is your body. Talk to your caregiver about what amount of weight gain is right for you.
Now is not the time to diet or lose weight. Talk to your caregiver if you have ever struggled with an eating disorder. ,
Eat well. Your baby shares the food you eat and both of you need to eat well. It is very important that you eat nutritious food and take the appropriate prenatal vitamins for you in order for the baby to grow.
You are eating for two not like two. Most women need to increase their daily calorie intake by 100 calories in the first trimester, but do you know what that looks like? This only translates to one cup of low fat milk or one to two servings of fruit and vegetables. Consult the Canada Food Guide or a nutritionist to help you choose the right amounts and types of food to eat for the health of you and your baby.
Be active. Daily moderate activity during pregnancy is very important.
Reduce stress. Some stress is normal but too much can stop you from taking care of yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep at night and rest when you need it. Talk to someone you trust or a caregiver about your stress.
Avoid smoking, drugs and alcohol. All of these can harm your baby and limit the baby’s growth. No amount is safe in pregnancy.
Remember, every body is different. Ask your health care provider (doctor or midwife) how much weight gain is right for your body. Pregnancy is an important time to make the necessary changes that will have a lifelong impact on your health and your baby’s health. A Healthy Baby is Worth the Weight.
Sources: Health Canada, 1999; Statistics Canada, 2003