Excess weight is becoming more and more common among young women. Obese women of child-bearing age are more likely to suffer infertility problems, because the excess fat in the body may change sexual hormone levels, making it difficult to get pregnant. That is why, if you are thinking about starting a family, it's important to maintain a healthy weight and diet.
Obesity during pregnancy is a risky situation for women, because it can lead to complications. Obese women are more prone to develop preeclampsia,which is a condition in which your blood pressure increases and fluids may be retained. This condition can put the woman and her baby's life in danger. There is also an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes,a type of diabetes that appears when a pregnant woman is not capable of maintaining normal glucose levels in the blood. In addition, obese pregnant women are more likely to need to deliver by C-Section at the time of delivery.
Infants of obese mothers are at a higher risk of suffering neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, cleft lip,or cleft palate. Also, the infant could develop a condition known as macrosomia. Macrosomia occurs when the baby gains too much weight during the pregnancy, putting him/her at risk during delivery. Recent studies have indicated that obesity during pregnancy could predispose infants to become obese later in life.
Knowing all of this, what can women do?
- If you intend to become pregnant soon, get your weight checked and assessed by your health care provider. If you are overweight, you can start to make changes in your eating habits, and start an exercise routine. You'll feel good, will reach the appropriate weight, and be ready for one of the most important stages of your life. Remember to have your doctor's approval before making any changes in your eating habits, or starting an exercise routine.
- If you are pregnant and overweight, you shouldn't try to lose weight. If you start a restrictive diet, your baby may not get all of the important nutrients it needs, and it could impede their development and growth. According to the American Dietetic Association, obese pregnant women should gain approximately 15 pounds. Your healthcare provider and dietitian will work with you to establish the appropriate dietary recommendations as well as recommend a weight gain pattern for you during your pregnancy based on your individual needs.
- The United States Department of Agriculture gives the following recommendations for future mothers:
- Eat enough fruits and vegetables (at least 5 a day). Fruits and vegetables provide essential nutrients that you and your baby need.
- Make sure that the majority of the grains you eat are made of whole grains. During pregnancy, it's common to be slightly constipated; eating whole grain foods can help alleviate constipation.
- Drink/eat low-fat milk and dairy products.
- Choose lean meats and cook them without fat. When cooking chicken, make sure you remove the skin.
- Drink plenty of water. Women need more fluids during pregnancy to meet the demands of supporting themselves and their baby.
- Get physical activity. Walking or participating in water exercises are feasible during pregnancy. Being physically active for at least 30 minutes every day, will help reduce the risk of obesity-related complications. Be sure to consult your health care provider before starting any new exercise routine while pregnant.
- After delivery, breastfeeding is not only great for your baby; it will also help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight more quickly. While women are breastfeeding , they typically need about 500 additional calories per day. It is important not to diet during this critical period.
Remember that pregnancy is a very important period during the life cycle. Every effort you make to improve your lifestyle habits will reflect positively on you and your baby's health.
Position of the American Dietetic Association: Nutrition and Lifestyle for a Healthy Pregnancy Outcome. (2008). Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Accessed in August 2008 from: http://www.eatright.org/ada/files/PIIS0002822308000679.pdf
MyPyramid for Pregnancy and Breastfeeding, accessed in August 2008 from: http://www.mypyramid.gov/mypyramidmoms/index.html
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