Larger pregnant women are bombarded with information about how their size may be putting their babies at risk. In the past six months alone, we’ve learned that:
Obese pregnant women are at higher risk for complications and C sections, Overweight women are more likely to have overweight babies , The UK has changed recommendations to encourage pregnant women to gain less weight and lose weight more quickly…and half a dozen other studies and stories about how too much weight gain during pregnancy increases risk for both mothers and babies, more so if the mother was overweight to begin with.
It’s obvious why these things are important from a public health standpoint. Obesity is a health risk. Educating women about the dangers of being overweight, for both themselves and their babies, is a crucial tool in improving our population’s health…
…before pregnancy. But can you imagine how all this information feels falling on the ears of a women who’s already pregnant, already plus sized, and thus past the point of preventing many of the risks she’s learning about?
Beyond the guilt and the basics (Exercise! Don’t gain too much weight!) very little is said about how the overweight pregnant woman can navigate pregnancy in the best possible way. Here, from an article by Erin Walters, are five tips for a healthy, happy plus sized pregnancy.
1. Find the right doctor.
It’s vital to have a doctor who makes you feel comfortable, but in this case, it’s especially important to choose one you’re comfortable enough to talk with openly about your weight. If you feel like your provider talks down to you, makes you feel uncomfortable, or worse, doesn’t address your weight at all, it’s time to find a new practice.
It isn’t always easy to find a care provider who’s both trustworthy and easy to talk to. Many women bite the bullet and accept a condescending or conversationally awkward doctor because they feel safe with their medical reputation. But if you’re not able to deal with the weight issue in an upfront way, you may find yourself clamming up or being dishonest, which can be unsafe in itself.
2. Know your risks
Though gestational diabetes and preeclampsia get the most notoriety among the risks associated with being overweight and pregnant, there are many more you’ll want to be aware of. According to Dr. Ashley S. Roman, maternal fetal medicine specialist at the New York University School of Medicine, women who enter pregnancy with a high BMI also have a higher risk of miscarriage, preterm labor, high blood pressure, certain birth defects, postpartum hemorrhage, postpartum blood clots, postpartum pneumonia, postpartum depression, c-section wound infection, having a large baby, having a baby that gets stuck on the way out and having a c-section.
Now remember that you aren’t a statistic. You’re you. And now that you know those risks, you can work on lowering them. Talk to your doctor about things you can do to help, such as keeping tabs on your blood pressure, taking extra folic acid, and generally taking good care of yourself.
When your pregnancy is associated with greater risks, whether it’s because of weight, age, or any number of other factors, you’re forced to confront a lot of scary data and imagine it applying to yourself. Keeping a little distance from the numbers (as described above) will help you to avoid freaking out about them. Your awareness of these risks can help you make the best choices throughout your pregnancy, such as…
3. Eat right and exercise
Cliché? Maybe. But this is your primary defense against all those risks. A healthy, well-balanced diet and regular, moderate exercise are extra important during pregnancy, plus-sized or not. So keep your focus on maintaining a balanced diet, taking your vitamins, getting plenty of fluid, and staying active. Roman stresses that it’s also crucial to get up and moving as soon as possible after delivery, in order to lower health risks. Plus, this will help shed those pregnancy pounds and set you on a path toward a lower BMI before any future pregnancies.
4. Watch the scale
Don’t weigh yourself every day, but do keep tabs on your pregnancy weight gain. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that patients with a BMI of 25-29.9 gain 15-20 pounds, and that moms-to-be with a BMI over 30 (considered obese) limit weight gain to 11-20 pounds. For women with a BMI over 40, they actually mention that modest weight loss “may be recommended,” with close supervision by your doctor. Steer clear of fad diets and never take diet pills. As a rule of thumb, don’t “diet” at all without your doctor’s approval.
Remember, you aren’t alone. More than 60 percent of the U.S. population is overweight (BMI 25-plus). Seek out other plus-sized mamas — women who have been in your shoes can offer support and tips, including where to shop for plus-sized maternity clothes, which can be elusive.
In my opinion, there’s nothing more valuable than connecting with others when you’re going through a difficult experience. Plus-sized pregnancy may be marginalized in mainstream media (meaning, you won’t find much about it in the magazines you see on the racks at the supermarket). But that’s not the real story. There are a lot of plus sized women out there who are pregnant and making it work for them—showing ways that a plus size pregnancy can be healthy for both moms and babies. Erin Walters’ piece is a great example of how such personal insight can make a big difference in how you think about your pregnancy, and how you make your pregnancy as smooth and happy as possible. The article also includes some incredibly helpful tips to use at different stages of pregnancy and birth (did you know that overweight women’s normal phase of active labor is an hour longer than an average weight woman’s? I didn’t) and advice on the day to day differences for plus sized pregnant women. Be sure to check it out!