Pregnancy Pounds Linked to Weight Gain in Toddlers
Doctors routinely tell pregnant women with healthy body mass indexes to gain only 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. Underweight women are given a 28 to 40 pound range, while overweight women are urged to keep their weight gain between 15 to 25 pounds.
Now, however, a new study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology finds that these guidelines may be far too generous. That's because women who gained the recommended amount were nearly four times as likely to have a baby who was overweight at age 3 compared with women who gained less. Those who gained more than the recommended amount had an even greater risk. "We know that more children are overweight than in the past and that this trend is also occurring in infants, but it could be occurring even in utero," says study leader Emily Oken, an instructor in the department of ambulatory care and prevention at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
In the study, researchers followed more than 1,000 women through their pregnancies. The researchers found that 8 percent of the babies whose mothers gained an average of 31 pounds were overweight by age 3, compared with only 4 percent of the babies whose mothers gained an average of 21 pounds. About 11 percent of babies born to mothers who gained more than 35 pounds were overweight by toddlerhood. The study controlled for TV-viewing habits and the amount of fast food and sugary drinks a toddler consumed as well as the mother's prepregnancy weight and health status, all factors linked to obesity in kids. "We don't think it's just about the fact that women who gained more in pregnancy had behaviors that led to weight gain behaviors in their kids," says Oken. Rather, she adds, certain programming could also be taking place within the womb that determines a child's appetite or metabolism after birth and that this programming could be altered by an excess amount of calories.
Many experts had already been arguing that the current guidelines, laid down in 1990, are out of date since most pregnant women gain more than the recommended amount nowadays. With this new study and several others indicating the risks of excessive weight gain, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists could revise its weight recommendations downward in the coming months, according to Gary Hankins, chair of the obstetrics practice committee of ACOG and chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Hankins isn't waiting; he advises his patients to gain less than the recommended amounts. "I tell women with a healthy body mass index that 15 to 20 pounds is a really good target to shoot for and that they shouldn't gain more than 25 pounds." Although he would recommend a larger weight gain if a baby wasn't growing properly, Hankins says that this amount is usually enough to ensure a healthy baby and makes it easier for women to get back to their prepregnancy weight.