Pregnancy Weight Linked to Heavy Kids
Currently Recommended Weight Gains Can Put Babies at Risk of Being Overweight by Age 3, Study Shows
April 2, 2007 -- Mothers-to-be who follow widely accepted recommendations
for weight gain during pregnancy may still be putting their babies at risk for
becoming overweight early in life, Harvard Medical School researchers
Babies in the Harvard study born to women who gained too much weight, or
even appropriate amounts of weight under current guidelines, were four times as
likely to become overweight early in childhood as babies born to women who
gained less weight than the guidelines recommend.
Though the findings must be confirmed, one of the study’s researchers tells
WebMD that policymakers should consider revising the current weight-gain
“To individual moms I would say definitely don’t over-gain during
pregnancy,” says Emily Oken, MD, MPH. “In our [study] population, more than
half of the women gained more than what was recommended, which we think may
already be too generous.”
The current federal guidelines, published in 1990, call for more weight gain
during pregnancy than had been recommended in the past. The revision was
motivated by concerns that low weight gain led to babies of low birth
Using standard body mass index (BMI) measures of body weight, the guidelines
recommend the following pregnancy weight gains:
- 28 to 40 pounds for underweight women
- 25 to 35 pounds for women of normal weight
- 15 to 25 pounds for overweight women
- At least 13 pounds for obese women
Pregnancy weights have been increasing over the last two decades, and the
rate of obesity among young children has reached epidemic levels.
“We have seen an increasing trend towards obesity even in infants,
suggesting that the pressures encouraging weight gain in children aren’t
confined to fast food, too much TV, and too little exercise,” Oken says.
Oken and colleagues examined pregnancy weight and child outcomes in 1,044
mother-child pairs followed through pregnancy until the children reached age
Just more than half of the women (51%) gained more weight during pregnancy
than the guidelines called for, while 35% gained within the guidelines and 14%
gained less weight than recommended.
Even after adjusting for childhood obesity risk factors like high birth
weight, children born to women who gained the recommended amount of weight or
more were at increased risk for being overweight by age 3.
“We know babies born to women who gain a lot of weight during pregnancy tend
to have higher birth weights, but that didn’t explain the increases we saw,”
Boston obstetrician Laura E. Riley, MD, tells WebMD that the researchers
make a good case for a link between a mother’s pregnancy weight gain and her
child’s risk for becoming overweight.
She points out that recent birth statistics suggest that the average birth
weight of babies in this country has remained steady, while infants are getting
Riley is the medical director of labor and delivery at Massachusetts General
“If the average birth weight is still 7 to 8 pounds, and these babies are
fat at 2 months, this suggests to me that there is some kind of in utero
programming going on,” she says. “I want to see more research on this, but I am
pretty convinced and incredibly concerned.”
Riley agrees that it may be time to revisit the guidelines on pregnancy
weight gain, but she is not convinced this will have much of an impact.
She says most pregnant women probably aren’t getting an accurate picture of
how much weight they should gain based on their weight.
“I think the general message that everyone is getting is that they should
gain 25 to 35 pounds,” she says. “That may be good advice for some women but
not for everyone.”