Being overweight during pregnancy
Being overweight during pregnancy can cause complications for you and your baby. The more overweight you are, the more likely you are to have pregnancy complications. But there are things you can do before and during pregnancy to help you have a healthy baby.
How do you know if you’re overweight or obese?
Being overweight is based on your pre-pregnancy body mass index (also called BMI). Pre-pregnancy means your BMI before you get pregnant. BMI is a calculation based on your height and weight:
- If you’re overweight, your BMI is 25.0 to 29.9 before pregnancy. Overweight means you have excess body weight that comes from your muscles, bone, fat and water. About 3 in 4 women (75 percent) in the United States are overweight.
- If you’re obese, your BMI is 30.0 or higher before pregnancy. Obese means you have an excess amount of body fat. About 1 in 3 women (36 percent) in the United States is obese.
To find out your BMI, use this BMI calculator or talk to your health care provider.
What kinds of pregnancy complications can being overweight or obese cause?
Before pregnancy, if you’re overweight or obese you’re more likely than women at a healthy weight to have problems getting pregnant (also called infertility). Obesity can affect a certain kind of fertility treatment called in vitro fertilization (also called IVF). IVF is when an egg and sperm are combined in a lab to create an embryo (fertilized egg) which is then put into your uterus. The higher your BMI, the less likely it is for you to get pregnant with IVF.
If you’re overweight or obese during pregnancy, you’re more likely to have these complications:
- High blood pressure, preeclampsia and blood clotting problems. High blood pressure is when the force of blood against the walls of the blood vessels is too high. 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. Clotting problems are when blood clots partly or completely block the flow of blood in a blood vessel.
- Gestational diabetes. This is a kind of diabetes that some women get during pregnancy. Diabetes is when your body has too much sugar (called glucose) in the blood.
- Being pregnant past your due date and problems during labor and birth, including problems with anesthesia (pain medicine). You also may need to stay in the hospital longer after having your baby than women at a healthier weight.
- Cesarean birth (also called c-section). This is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your doctor makes in your belly and uterus (womb). If you’re obese, you’re more likely to have complications from a c-section, like an infection or losing too much blood.
- Miscarriage or stillbirth. Miscarriage is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Stillbirth is when a baby dies in the womb before birth but after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
- Trouble losing your pregnancy weight after giving birth
If you’re obese, you’re more likely to have other complications, including:
- Have Infections during pregnancy, like urinary tract infections
- Have sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea. This is when your breathing stops while you’re sleeping.
- Have a dangerous blood clot problem called venous thromboembolism (also called VTE). This is when a blood clot breaks off and travels through your blood to organs like the brain, lungs or heart. This can cause a stroke or heart attack.
- Need to go to the hospital earlier in labor, have longer labor and need labor induction (also called inducing labor). This is when your provider gives you medicine or breaks your water (amniotic sac or bag of waters) to make your labor begin.
- Have a cesarean birth (also called c-section). This is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your doctor makes in your belly and uterus (womb).
- Start and keep breastfeeding
Can being overweight or obese cause problems for your baby?
Yes. If you’re overweight or obese during pregnancy, your baby is more likely to have these conditions:
- Birth defects, including neural tube defects (also called NTDs). NTDs are birth defects of the brain and spine. A birth defect is a health condition that a baby has at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, in how the body develops, or in how the body works. It may be hard for your health care provider to diagnose birth defects during pregnancy even prenatal tests like ultrasound.
- Macrosomia (also called large for gestational age or LGA). This means your baby weighs more than 9 pounds, 15 ounces (4,500 grams) at birth. When a baby is this large, it can cause complications during labor and birth, including injury to your baby. It also increases your chances of needing a c-section.
- Premature birth. This is birth that happens before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. This is too soon and can cause serious health problems for your baby.
- Diabetes, heart disease and obesity later in life
What can you do to improve your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby?
Before pregnancy, get a preconception checkup. This is a medical checkup you get before pregnancy. Your health care provider can help you find ways to eat healthy and be physically active to help you lose weight before you get pregnant. Losing weight before pregnancy is good for both you and your baby. If you’re thinking about weight-loss surgery, talk to your provider about your options and how long to wait after the surgery before you get pregnant.
During pregnancy, do these things to help keep you and your baby healthy:
- Get early and regular prenatal care. Prenatal care is medical care you get during pregnancy. Go to every prenatal care checkup, even if you’re feeling fine. Your provider gives you prenatal tests, like a glucose screening test for diabetes and ultrasound to get a picture of your baby in the womb.
- Talk to your provider about how much weight to gain during pregnancy. If you’re overweight, you want to gain about 15 to 25 pounds during pregnancy. If you’re obese, your target range is 11 to 20 pounds.
- Eat healthy foods. Talk to your provider or a nutritionist to help you plan your meals. Check out choosemyplate.gov from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It can help you make a healthy eating plan based on your age, weight, height and physical activity. It also has a special section just for pregnant women.
- Don’t diet. Some diets can reduce the nutrients your baby needs to grow and develop. Don’t try to stay at the same weight or lose weight during pregnancy.
- Do something active every day. Talk to your provider about activities that are safe for you.
Last reviewed January 2015
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.