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Can Pregnancy Weight Loss Be Good?

For Obese Women, Losing Weight During Pregnancy May Help Baby's Health
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 14, 2007 - Losing weight during pregnancy may improve the health of babies born to obese women with gestational diabetes.

Traditionally, doctors haven't liked to see pregnant women lose weight, even if the women are obese. Indeed, the 1990 guidelines of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggest that obese women should gain 15 to 25 pounds over the course of a pregnancy.

Yet children born to obese women have increased risk of neural tube defects, congenital heart defects, and other serious problems. And most women don't lose all the weight they gain during pregnancy -- adding to the health risks of women already battling obesity.

This has led some doctors to question whether it might be better for obese women to maintain their weight -- or even lose weight -- during pregnancy.

One of those doctors is Raul Artal, MD, professor and chairman of the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and women's health at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. To begin studying the issue, Artal and colleagues worked with 96 obese or morbidly obese pregnant women with gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes is diabetes that occurs during pregnancy in a woman who didn't have diabetes before pregnancy; it usually goes away after pregnancy.

The women in the study were allowed to choose either a reduced-calorie diet alone or a weight-maintenance diet plus exercise -- walking for at least 20 minutes after each meal.

Nearly half the women in the exercise group maintained their weight or lost weight, while four out of five women in the diet-only group gained weight.

"Women who either maintain weight in pregnancy or lose weight -- and exercise -- have fewer complications than those on diets alone," Artal tells WebMD. "We definitely see these women deliver normal-size babies, which means that this plays a role in fewer complications."

Does this prove it's safe for obese women to lose weight during pregnancy?

No, says J. Christopher Glantz, MD, MPH, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester, N.Y. He notes that the Artal study was too small and too limited in scope to apply to all obese women during pregnancy.

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