Women who gain more than 18kg during pregnancy have nearly twice the risk of delivering a heavy baby as those who gain less, US researchers claim.
The study of more than 40 000 US women and their babies found as many as one in five women gains too much weight during pregnancy, doubling the chances her baby will weigh 4kg or more.
And they found women who gain more than 18kg during pregnancy are more likely to have a heavy baby even if they do not have gestational diabetes, a short-term form of diabetes linked with pregnancy that is known to increase the risk of having a big baby.
"Because there are so many women who are gaining more than 18kg during pregnancy, it's an important health message for most women to avoid excessive weight during pregnancy," said Dr Teresa Hillier of Kaiser Permanente Centre for Health Research in Portland, Oregon, whose study appears in the journal Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Hillier said gaining extra weight during pregnancy increases the risk for having heavy babies, and studies suggest these babies are programmed to become overweight or obese later in life. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, babies who weigh more than 4kg at birth are considered heavy.
How the study was done
A large baby can pose risks for a difficult delivery - increasing the chances of vaginal tearing, bleeding, and Caesarean-sections for the mother and the risk of stuck shoulders and broken collar bones for the baby.
In the study, Hillier and colleagues examined the medical records of 41 540 women who gave birth in Washington, Oregon and Hawaii from 1995-2003. All had been tested for gestational diabetes and 5.4% were treated for it with a program of diet, exercise and insulin, if needed, to control blood sugar.
Overall, 20% of the women in the study who gained more than 18kg - the upper limit of pregnancy weight gain recommendations in the United States - gave birth to heavy babies. Fewer than 12% of women in the study with normal weight gain delivered heavy babies, she said.
The group at greatest risk were those who gained more than 18kgs and had gestational diabetes. Nearly 30% of these women had heavy babies, compared with 13.5% of women with gestational diabetes who had normal weight gains during pregnancy.
Problem fuelling childhood obesity
The researchers said the findings suggest all women should avoid excessive weight gain during pregnancy. And women who are being treated for gestational diabetes should also strive to keep weight gain below 18kgs.
"You can't treat the glucose and ignore the weight gain issue," Hillier said. Weight gain during pregnancy has been rising over the past two decades, and some researchers suspect this may be fuelling an epidemic of childhood obesity. – (Reuters Health, November 2008)
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