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Pregnant Women Should Gain Less Weight (Easy For You To Say, New York Times)

In her Personal Health column in the New York Times, Jane Brody, took on the increasingly pressing issue of pregnancy weight gain. Recent studies have revealed that the more a woman gains in pregnancy, the more likely she is to have a big baby. And big babies are more likely to have health problems, including complications at birth, and weight problems later in life.

There are more big babies being born now than ever before. And per this and other studies, women are both gaining more weight during pregnancy and starting out heavier when they get pregnant. Brody says this study may show we’ve got the wrong idea about what’s causing our obesity epidemic. What if it isn’t the result of poor eating habits and low activity levels? What if it isn’t about behavioral choices at all, but the result of excessive weight gain in pregnancy?

This study has been out for a bit (I wrote about it a few weeks ago). But Brody’s piece drove it home in a big way.  If birth weight is truly a predictor of future body mass index (a connection I was unaware of before reading this piece) and pregnancy weight gain is a predictor of birth weight, well, it seems like the case for keeping moms’ weight down might be even stronger than we’d previously thought.

And the numbers are indeed concerning:  “fewer than 40 percent of pregnant women gain only the recommended amount of weight during their pregnancy,” according to Dr. Sylvia R. Karasu and Dr. T. Byram Karasu, authors of “The Gravity of Weight.”

So what does this mean for pregnant women, now and in the future? I think it’s pretty clear that we are going to start seeing stricter guidelines about pregnancy diet and weight gain. While I see that there is good reason for this from a public health perspective, I worry about how this translates to the individual woman. Pregnancy is already so rife with restrictions and recommendations. A certain looseness about the quantity of food one eats can sort of help compensate for the fact that so many foods and drinks are off limits. If pregnancy became a time of tight diets and morbid fear of excessive weight gain…it would be sort of like the rest of most women’s lives.

Pregnancy weight gain is not always so easy to control. Food cravings can rule the appetite, and exercise can be more of a challenge than usual. In fact, pregnancy weight and diet control may just be part of the puzzle. The take-home from these findings, according to study leader Janet Currie, is not just about pregnancy weight. It’s about womens’ weight in general: “The next frontier has to be the prepregnancy period. If we really want to improve the health of children, we have to get to mothers before they get pregnant.” So if you’re thinking of having children sometime in the future, expect to have your diet and exercise plan be part of the discussion.

See Strollerderby’s take on this story here.

photo: Tomorrow Never Knows/flickr

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