The Health Risks of Obesity During Pregnancy
Dec 30, 2013
a woman is obese during pregnancy, she is at greater risk for any
number of health problems, from diabetes to premature birth.
But recent research shows that a mother’s weight can also
significantly affect a child’s health and later risk of obesity, says
Robert Debbs, DO, FACOOG, Director of Penn Maternal Fetal Medicine at University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro (UMCPP)
and the Director of the University of Pennsylvania Maternal Fetal
Network. Penn Maternal Fetal Medicine at UMCPP offers advanced care for
expectant mothers in New Jersey, including an increased range of
services, round-the-clock access, and experts in the field of maternal
“Overweight women are more likely to have children who become
overweight and have medical problems at an earlier age,” Dr. Debbs says.
“We’re seeing teenagers born of women who were significantly overweight
having weight-related health problems like high blood pressure.”
Dr. Debbs recommends that women speak with their doctors about ways to achieve a healthy weight before becoming pregnant.
A Healthy Weight at Conception
More than one-third of women in New Jersey enter pregnancy at a
weight that would be considered obese based on their Body Mass Index, or
BMI, Dr. Debbs says. A person is regarded as obese if her BMI, a
measure of body fat based on height and weight, is over 30.
Obese women have a higher incidence of diabetes, infections and
preeclampsia, a dangerous combination of high blood pressure and excess
protein in the urine during pregnancy. They are also more likely to have
complications during a C-section delivery and to have babies with
more long-term issue is that an expectant mom’s obesity, in essence,
genetically “pre-programs” her baby’s body to be more resistant to
insulin, Dr. Debbs says. Insulin resistance harms the body’s ability to
process carbohydrates and sugars, causing them to be converted to body
fat instead of energy.
“Many women don’t know the risks of obesity during pregnancy,” says
Dr. Debbs, who is board certified in OB/GYN and maternal and fetal
medicine. “When women talk to their doctors they often find it very
empowering, because there is a lot they can do to prevent these risks.”
Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy
Healthy eating and exercise habits should be developed before pregnancy and continued throughout. Dr. Debbs suggests:
- Eating a diet that’s focused on lean meats and fish, whole
grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. Women who are
pregnant usually do not need more than 2,000 calories a day, although
weight-specific guidelines should be used based on your starting
- Aiming for 30 minutes of low-impact exercise, such as
walking, at least three days a week. Pregnant women should avoid
workouts that take their heart rate above 140 beats per minute but
should continue to exercise throughout pregnancy.
- Scheduling a pre-conception visit with an OB/GYN or a
maternal fetal medicine specialist if you’ve had past pregnancy-related
find a doctor or to learn more about Penn Maternal Fetal Medicine at
UMCPP, call 609.853.7660 or visit www.princetonhcs.org.