Are You Fit to Be Pregnant?

It is baby making season, but an alarming number of women may be too overweight to have a healthy pregnancy.

couple in fallCouple in fall photo via Shutterstock

Late fall is prime baby making season. According to the U.S. Census, July and August are the most popular birth months. So if you do the math, right now is when the magic is happening. There are a number of theories as to why. Researchers say that the holidays and family vacations result in couples spending more time together. Also, that new chill in the air is good for sperm production.

But right now, nearly half of U.S. women who are of child-bearing age are obese, according to a 2009 study in the Maternal and Child Health Journal. Also, obesity during pregnancy affects one third of pregnant women. Dr. Karen O’Brien, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist at Anna Jaques Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says that if you’re overweight or obese, you’re more likely to have certain medical problems during pregnancy, including the risk of miscarriage.

“Obese women can have difficulty conceiving, as they may have some degree of ovulatory dysfunction due to polycystic ovary syndrome,” O’Brien says. “Weight reduction in obese, infertile women appears to be associated with an increase in the frequency of ovulation and the likelihood of pregnancy.”

The list of possible complications doesn’t stop there. O’Brien says that obesity also increases the risk of postpartum infection and whether the baby is delivered vaginally or by cesarean section. Plus, there is the risk of having a really big baby (called large-for-gestational-age or macrosomia).  This increases the potential for shoulder dystocia, a situation in which baby’s shoulders get stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone at the time of delivery, making the delivery itself more complicated.

The good news is that there are things you can do to decrease your risk of these complications. If you are thinking about getting pregnant, or you are pregnant, here are O’Brien’s pre-to-post pregnancy tips:

Exercise: “Exercising during pregnancy can help prevent and manage weight gain during each trimester. Additionally, exercise can have a positive impact on your pregnancy, by reducing your risk of pregnancy problems like gestational diabetes. Try low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, stationary biking, and prenatal yoga. After you give birth, even though those initial weeks and months after delivery are exhausting, it’s important for you to pop baby in a carrier or stroller and get out of the house for walks to get into shape while enjoying some fresh air. ”

Start a healthy diet: “If you’re obese and pregnant, you should seek the services of a clinical nutritionist during your pregnancy and maintain a daily food diary. Every state offers the Women, Infants & Children program, which has a nutritionist or dietitian on staff. I strongly encourage pregnant women to take advantage of their services.”

Don’t cut calories: “Never cut calories while pregnant. Your growing baby needs nutrients and calories to develop properly. Inadequate intake of nutrients can lead to an array of disastrous results, ranging from birth defects to neurological problems to miscarriage. Now is the time to focus on nutrition, not caloric intake.”

Lay off the salt: “Watch your salt intake to prevent fluid retention, which can be common during pregnancy, especially for obese women. Fluid retention is hard on your body, and it is aggravated by a diet that is high in salt.”

Eat bananas: “To battle fluid retention, enjoy foods that are high in potassium, as potassium is known to lower blood pressure and aid in fluid absorption. Bananas are an excellent choice because they are very high in this vital nutrient.”

Set aside time some “me” time: “Consider a nature walk or gentle yoga poses to ease stress, or close your eyes and listen to calming music. If you know you cope with stressful situations by indulging in comfort foods, surround yourself with healthful snacks, or at least choose foods that are lower in fat and sugar.”

Breastfeed: “Breastfeeding can help with weight loss. You can burn around an extra 500 calories a day. Not only can breastfeeding help you lose some of the baby weight, it is also boosts the baby’s immune system and is a lovely way to bond with your baby.”

Are you thinking of having a baby? How are you preparing your body?