Overweight and obesity during pregnancy
Being overweight or obese during pregnancy can cause complications for you and your baby. The more overweight you are, the greater the chances for pregnancy complications. But there are things you can do before and during pregnancy to help you have a healthy baby.
To know if you’re overweight or obese, find out your body mass index (BMI) before you get pregnant. BMI is a calculation based on your weight and height.
- If you’re overweight, your BMI is 25.0 to 29.9 before pregnancy. Two in 3 women (66 percent) of reproductive age (15 to 44 years) in the United States is overweight.
- If you’re obese, your BMI is 30.0 or higher before pregnancy. About 1 in 4 women (25 percent) is obese.
What kinds of pregnancy complications can overweight and obesity cause?
If you’re overweight or obese, you’re more likely than pregnant women at a healthy weight to have certain medical problems during pregnancy. The more overweight you are, the higher your risk for problems. These problems include:
- Infertility, not being able to get pregnant
- Miscarriage, when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy
- Stillbirth, when a baby dies in the womb before birth but after 20 weeks of pregnancy
- High blood pressure and preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that can happen after the 20th week of pregnancy or right after pregnancy. It’s when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and signs that some of her organs, like her kidneys and liver, may not be working properly. Some of these signs include having protein in the urine, changes in vision and severe headache.
- Gestational diabetes, diabetes that some women get during pregnancy
- Complications during labor and birth, including having a really big baby (called large-for-gestational-age) or needing a cesarean section (c-section)
Some of these problems, like preeclampsia, can increase your chances of preterm birth. Preterm birth is birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy. This is too soon and can cause serious health problems for your baby.
Can overweight and obesity during pregnancy cause problems for your baby?
Most babies of overweight and obese women are born healthy. But overweight and obesity during pregnancy can cause health problems for your baby. These include:
- Birth defects, including neural tube defects (NTDs). NTDs are birth defects of the brain and spine.
- Preterm birth
- Injury, like shoulder dystocia, during birth because the baby is large
- Death after birth
- Being obese during childhood
What can you do before pregnancy to improve your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby?
Get a preconception checkup. This is a medical checkup you get before pregnancy. Your health care provider can help you with ways to eat healthy and exercise. This can help you lose weight before you get pregnant.
Check out choosemyplate.gov, an online tool from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It can help you with a healthy eating plan based on your age, weight, height and physical activity.
What can you do during pregnancy to improve your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby?
Here’s what you can do:
- Get early and regular prenatal care. Go to every checkup, even if you’re feeling fine.
- Talk to your provider about how much weight to gain during pregnancy. Overweight women should gain about 15 to 25 pounds during pregnancy. Obese women should gain about 11 to 20 pounds during pregnancy. Don’t try to lose weight during pregnancy.
- Don’t diet during pregnancy. Some diets can reduce the nutrients your baby needs for growth and health. Visit the special section of choosemyplate.gov that’s just for pregnant women and breastfeeding moms. Or see a nutritionist to help you plan your meals.
- Exercise on most days. But talk to your provider before you start any exercise program. Walking, swimming, riding a stationary bike or taking pregnancy aerobic or yoga classes are safe forms of exercise for pregnant women.
Does weight-loss surgery reduce your chances of pregnancy complications?
Yes. More than 50,000 women each year in the United States have weight-loss surgery. Women who lose weight after weight-loss surgery are less likely than obese women who haven’t had surgery to have fertility problems. They’re also less likely to have pregnancy complications, like gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. And their babies are less likely to be born too early or with birth defects.
If you have weight-loss surgery, your provider may recommend that you wait at least 1 year after surgery before you try to get pregnant. You may lose a lot of weight really quickly during that year after surgery. If you’re pregnant, this rapid weight loss could cause problems for your baby.
It’s not common, but weight-loss surgery can cause pregnancy complications for some women. If you’ve had weight-loss surgery, tell your surgeon right away if you have pain in your belly during pregnancy. You may need to be checked for blocked intestines or similar problems.
Remember that you don’t have to have weight-loss surgery to lose weight. Healthy eating, exercise and other lifestyle changes can help you lose weight without surgery. Talk to your provider about your pregnancy plans and how weight-loss surgery may affect them.
Last reviewed October 2011
See also: Tracking your weight gain, Preconception health care
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you know you're pregnant?
Knowing the signs of pregnancy can help you tell if you’re pregnant. Here are some signs that you might be pregnant:
If you have any of these pregnancy signs and think you may be pregnant, go to your health care provider. The sooner you know you're pregnant, the sooner you can begin prenatal checkups and start taking good care of yourself and your growing baby.
Is my baby moving enough?
You'll start feeling your baby's kicks at around the 28th week of pregnancy. By this time, your baby's movements are usually well established and some health care providers recommend keeping track of these movements.
- Track kick counts at about the same time each day when your baby is active.
- Track kick counts shortly after you've eaten a meal (when your baby may be most active).
- Sit or lay on your side, place your hands on your belly and monitor baby's movement.
- Mark every movement down on a piece of paper. Don't count baby's hiccups.
Keep counting until you've felt 10 movements from baby. If baby doesn't move 10 times within 1 hour, try again later that day. Call your health provider if your baby's movement seems unusual or you've tried more than once that day and can't feel baby move 10 times or more during 1 hour.
When will I start feeling my baby move?
Popcorn popping. A little fish swimming. Bubbles. Butterflies. Tickles. These are common words used by women to describe their baby's first movements. Also known as "quickening," it's a reassuring sign that your baby is OK and growing. This milestone typically starts sometime between 18 to 25 weeks into pregnancy. For first-time moms, it may occur closer to 25 weeks, and for second- or third-time moms, it may happen much sooner.
At first it may be difficult to tell the difference between gas and your baby moving. You might not feel movement as early as you are expecting to feel it, but you'll notice a pattern soon. You'll start to learn when the baby is most active and what seems to get her moving.