Heavy burden of pregnancy poses problems

Dear Mr. Dad: Last week you talked about some pregnancy myths and mentioned that expectant mothers should be more worried about putting on too little weight than too much. That makes sense, but isn’t there a limit to how much weight a woman should put on? Before she got pregnant, my wife worked out and we tried to eat a healthy diet. But over the past couple of months, she’s completely let herself go, putting on about 30 pounds – and we’re only halfway through the pregnancy. I’ve tried to gently tell her that she should watch her diet a bit more, but she insists that she’s “eating for two.” How can I get through to her?

A. A woman whose pre-pregnancy weight is in the “normal” range needs to eat about 300 more calories per day than she did before. That translates into 25-35 pounds, which is the range recommended by most OBs. (Women who were underweight before pregnancy should put on a little more, those who were overweight should put on less.)

Since your wife will get weighed at every OB visit, her doctor will probably be chatting with her about her weight pretty soon. And given that it’s rarely safe for a man to talk to a woman about her weight, that’s a good thing. Still, at the pace she’s bulking up, she’s putting herself and, more importantly, her baby at risk. Unfortunately, she’ll need more encouragement to start cutting calories than her OB alone can provide, which puts you directly in the line of fire.

There’s a lot of data that shows that what a woman eats while she’s pregnant can have a significant impact on her children’s physical and mental health. Two studies that talk about pregnant women’s diet and weight just came out.

In the first, researcher Rebecca Reynolds and her team looked at birth and death records for more than 35,000 people born after 1950, and found that children born to obese mothers were 35 percent more likely to die prematurely as adults than the children of normal-weight moms. In most cases, the cause of the premature death was heart-related (heart attack or stroke). The study also found that women who were overweight (but not obese) gave birth to children who were 11 percent more likely to die prematurely. Reynolds also cited some previous research showing that besides having an increased risk of heart disease, children of obese mothers are more likely to be stillborn, have birth defects, and need extra medical attention at birth.

The second study, performed by researchers in Norway, found that children of mothers who ate a lot of junk food (refined cereals, sugary drinks, and salty snacks) during pregnancy are likely to have behavior problems (like tantrums or excessive aggressiveness) in the first 18 months of life.

One final note. Last week’s column generated a lot of emails. Most were positive, but several readers took me to task for what they interpreted as “recommending that pregnant women drink wine.” To be clear, that was not my recommendation. I was simply pointing out that the research on alcohol consumption during pregnancy shows that having an occasional glass of wine during pregnancy is probably OK. However – and this is a big however – because every pregnant woman’s situation is a little different, I recommended that before an expectant mom drinks any alcohol at all, she get the OK from her OB.

Read Armin Brott’s blog at DadSoup.com, send email to armin@mrdad.com and follow him on Twitter at @mrdad.

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