Pregnant women can safely control weight gain through diet and lifestyle changes

Diet and lifestyle change may need to start before pregnancy to reduce complications

Many overweight and obese women gain too much weight during pregnancy, further ratcheting up their already-increased risk of serious complications for themselves and their babies.

A new group of trials funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showed that pregnant women can safely limit their weight gain with diet and exercise interventions.

It is the largest set of trials in the U.S. to target pregnancy weight gain of overweight and obese women.

The trials included diverse socioeconomic groups, which means the findings are generalizable to a large population.

“This is an important study because it affirms that women can change behaviors to control the amount of weight gained in pregnancy,” said lead author Dr. Alan Peaceman, chief of maternal fetal medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine high-risk obstetrician.

However, the reduced weight gain — about four pounds per woman — did not result in fewer obstetrical complications, including cesarean sections, diabetes, hypertension, and preeclampsia, or change the average birth weight of the baby.

“We think that by the time these women are already in the second trimester, it may already be late to change important outcomes,” Peaceman said.

“To lower the risk of obstetrical complications, they may have to start changing their lifestyle before or immediately after they conceive.”

Investigators are hopeful that there will be longer-term benefits of the interventions in the infants, such as less childhood obesity or fewer metabolic abnormalities such as childhood diabetes.

The study was published Sept. 6 in the journal Obesity.

Source: Northwestern University.