Planning for a baby? You've got a lot to consider. Does your home have room for a new baby? Are your finances in order?
You also need to ask: How healthy is my body?
Ideally, it should be in the best possible shape to house and nourish a growing baby. If you're overweight, doctors advise losing the extra pounds before you conceive, if possible. Going into your pregnancy overweight means you could put your own health and your baby's health at risk, and potentially set your child up for a lifetime of health issues.
Studies link being overweight to a list of pregnancy complications, including miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth defects such as spina bifida. Too many pounds also makes it harder for you to conceive in the first place. You're also more likely to develop problems during your pregnancy, including high blood pressure (preeclampsia) and gestational diabetes.
Even more concerning are the potential lifelong effects of an overweight mom on her baby. "Research suggests that overweight mothers are programming babies in utero to be overweight themselves and to have long-term problems with obesity and childhood diabetes," says Alan M. Peaceman, MD. He is chief of maternal-fetal Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
How much weight should you aim to lose? "You should get down to the healthiest weight possible before you conceive,” Peaceman says. "But any weight loss before pregnancy is good."
"If the goal is 40 pounds and you can get halfway there and lose 20 pounds, we know that has a positive effect," says Alison G. Cahill, MD. She's an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis.
The best way to get down to a healthy pre-pregnancy weight is the tried-and-true method: diet and exercise. Ask your doctor or OB/GYN for tips on losing the weight safely.
Even if you begin your pregnancy overweight, you can deliver a healthy baby. Follow these tips from Cahill.
Contain the gain. Don't try to lose weight while you're pregnant, but do limit your weight gain. If you're overweight -- meaning you have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 -- at the start of your pregnancy, don't gain more than 25 pounds. Women who are obese to start (with BMIs of 30 or above) shouldn't put on more than 20 pounds.
Pick it up. The pace, that is. "We really encourage patients to be active," Cahill says. A 30-minute walk every day is a great start if you've been inactive.
Stick to basics. You'll get balanced nutrition with meals that include moderate portions from all the major food groups.
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