Global study reveals risks of unhealthy weight gain during pregnancy

Gaining more or less weight than the recommended guidelines increases health risks to mother and baby, say researchers.

Woman's feet standing on scales

Pregnancy news, 07/06/2017

The world’s largest study of 1.3 million pregnant women has revealed that weight gain greater or less than the recommended guidelines is associated with increased health risks to mother and baby.

The Monash University-led study looked at the weight gain of women during pregnancy and how this impacted their health and that of their baby’s.

They found that weight gain above the recommended levels was associated with a higher risk of a large baby and a caesarean delivery. Weight gain below the recommended level was associated with a higher risk of a small baby and premature birth.

The study also revealed that three in four women did not gain healthy recommended weight in pregnancy. They found 23 per cent of women did not gain enough weight during pregnancy, and 47 per cent of women gained too much.

Dr Daghni Rajasingam, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, commented,

‘The results of this large scale study highlight the potential complications for mother and baby if a woman gains more or less weight in pregnancy than is recommended by the US Institute of Medicine (IOM), including having large or small babies, preterm birth and caesarean delivery.

‘These findings have relevance in the UK as one in five pregnant women are obese and illustrate the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle through a well-balanced diet and exercise before, during and after their pregnancy to reduce associated complications. It is a myth that women need to ‘eat for two’ during their pregnancy - energy needs do not change until the last three months of pregnancy, when women need an extra 200 calories a day. Having a normal bodyweight will help to increase the chances of conceiving naturally and reduces the risk of pregnancy and birth complications for the mother and baby.’

The current guidelines recommend that underweight women gain between 12.5-18kg during pregnancy, healthy weight women gain 11.5-16kg, and overweight women gain 7-11kg.

Managing your weight in pregnancy is not about dieting or trying to lose weight. It's about looking after yourself and your baby by eating healthily and keeping active.

Having a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy can help you feel better, gain the right amount of weight and give your baby a great environment in which to grow.

As Dr Daghni Rajasingam said, ‘eating for two’ during pregnancy is a myth. You may be surprised to hear that you don't need any extra calories for the first six months of your pregnancy, unless you were underweight to start with.

In the last three months, you may need around 200 extra calories a day, which isn't very much - around two slices of wholemeal toast and butter. See our 200 calorie snack ideas.

Read more about weight management in pregnancy.

More information on weight management

  • 'FAQ' written in pink chalk on black board.

    Weight management FAQs

    Although you will be putting on weight in pregnancy as your baby grows, limiting the amount of extra weight gain in pregnancy will improve your health and your baby's, both now and in the future.

  • A woman's hand holding a BMI calculator.

    Calculate your BMI

    BMI stands for body mass index, and this is a way for your health team to know whether you are a healthy weight for your height. This BMI calculator is based on your pre-pregnancy weight.

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