According to a 2010 study, analysing pregnant mothers at Johannesburg Hospital — the prevalence of obesity in pregnancy is high among South African women and is associated with an increase in complications.
Doctors are well aware that excessive weight gain during pregnancy increases the risk of birthing difficulties and other complications, however many are hesitant of dishing out weight loss advice — because doctors fear that inappropriate weight loss methods will be used by mom — which will ultimately harm her and her baby’s health.
However, according to a new study by the Mayo Clinic in the United States, weight management through dieting, is the best way for mom to ensure that she doesn’t gain too much weight.
Dieting is essentially “the practice of eating food in a regulated fashion to achieve or mantain a controlled weight.”
Findings of the study
Researchers analysed 44 relevant studies that comprised of more than 7200 women – looking to see what effects diet, exercise or both had during pregnancy. Researchers looked specifically at how much weight women gained throughout pregnancy and whether a mother or child suffered any problems.
Even though all three methods were found to aid weight loss during pregnancy, dieting — overseen by health professionals — showed to have the greatest effects with an average reduction of almost four kilograms. The benefits were linked to health paybacks that came as a result of eating the correct foods in the correct portions.
Pregnant moms, who only exercised, lost about 0.7 kg, while moms who did a combination of dieting and exercise lost an average of about 1 kg.
Women on a calorie-restricted diet were 33 percent less likely to develop the medical condition pre-eclampsia. This medical condition is a potentially life-threatening condition for both mom and baby if it goes untreated.
According to the study, mom’s risk of gestational diabetes was cut by a whopping 60 percent with a calorie controlled diet, while the risk of gestational high blood was 70 percent lower – when compared to the other groups. The risk of premature birth was also reduced by 32 percent in dieting moms.
The dieting women ate foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. The research however did not show what a healthy amount of weight gain was for pregnant women or how many calories a woman should eat daily during pregnancy.
“Weight control is difficult but this study shows that by carefully advising women on weight management methods, especially diet, we can reduce weight gain during pregnancy,” says lead researcher Dr. Shakila Thangaratinam, a clinical senior lecturer and consultant obstetrician at Queen Mary, University of London,
“Women may be concerned that dieting during pregnancy could have a negative impact on their babies. This research is reassuring because it showed that dieting is safe and that the baby’s weight isn’t affected,” she added.
How much weight should I gain during pregnancy?
According to the Institute of Medicine’s most recent recommendations relating to weight gain during pregnancy, there are healthy weight gain margins that pregnant women should try to abide by.
- If your pre-pregnancy weight was in a healthy range (BMI of 18.5 to 24.9) you should gain between 10 and 15 kilograms – gaining 0.4 – 2kg’s in the first trimester and about 0.4kg per week for the rest of your pregnancy for the optimal growth of your baby.
- If you were underweight for your height (BMI below 18.5) you should gain between 12 and 18 kilograms.
- If you were overweight for your height (BMI of 25 to 29.9), you should gain 7 to 11 kilograms.
- If you were obese (BMI of 30 or higher) you should gain between 5 and 9 kilograms.
- If you are expecting twins, you should gain between 16 and 24 kilograms if you started on a healthy weight – 14 to 22 kilograms if you were overweight and between 11 and 19 kilograms if you were obese.
To keep within these margins, eat a healthy diet while you are pregnant and ask your doctor or health care professional for advice.
“What we don’t know is why diet should be so much better than exercise in controlling weight gain,” Thangaratinam said. “It could be that it is simpler and easier for women to stick to. It may also be that eating a high-fibre diet has other positive health effects for a pregnant woman.”
According to Lucilla Poston, head of women’s health at King’s College London and Lucy Chappell, clinical senior lecturer in maternal and fetal medicine at King’s, this study is “timely and welcome” because in the U.K. half of women of reproductive age are overweight and obese. However Poston adds that, “there is not yet sufficient evidence to support any particular intervention.”
Pregnant women should always consult with their doctor first before starting a new excercise programme or new eating plan.