How much weight should women gain during their pregnancy? An Australian research study.
Many people who are overweight report that their weight crept up slowly over time. It’s also very common that people describe how major life events were linked to their weight gain. For overweight women, one of the most common events linked to weight gain for them was a pregnancy.
Why does weight gain during pregnancy matter?
While it’s understood that women will normally gain weight during their pregnancy, researchers wanted to understand if women who were pregnant knew how much extra weight they should be gaining, and also understand the advice these women received from health professionals in relation to weight gain during pregnancy.
From a social perspective, pregnancy is one of the few times when positive health change can impact on two generations, and pregnant women tend to have more contact with the health system during their pregnancy. Sometimes, these factors contribute to added motivation for pregnant women to change their health behaviours. Finally, interventions with this group of the population have the potential to significantly reduce the public health burden of obesity.
What are the risks of excessive weight gain during a pregnancy?
Firstly, weight gain during pregnancy in excess of the recommended guidelines is associated with an increased risk of the offspring becoming overweight by the age of 3.
Women who are already overweight or obese before their pregnancy are also more likely to gain more weight than is recommended, and people who gain excess weight during their pregnancy also risk being overweight for subsequent pregnancies.
The Institute of Medicine has a helpful resource (although it uses imperial measures) to answer key questions about weight gain during pregnancy.
This research is interesting because it was conducted at an Australian hospital, and also because it highlights some of the areas where health professionals and pregnant women could benefit from openly discussing the guidelines for recommended weight gain during pregnancy.
Pregnant women were invited to participate in the study as part of their registration pack from their referral hospital. Participants self-reported their pre-pregnancy weight, and additional data was collected at approximately 16 and 34 weeks into their pregnancies.
A total of 664 women participated in the study. At 16 weeks, ten per cent of participants had either reached or exceeded their recommended weight gain for the whole pregnancy. Overall, only a third of participants achieved the recommended weight gain during their pregnancy. Other results include:
– two-thirds of participants reported never or rarely receiving advice from a health care professional regarding healthy weight gain
– half of all participants were unsure of their recommended weight gain
– only 34% of participants were able to correctly identify their appropriate weight gain range.
In discussing these results, the researchers highlighted that there was a reluctance amongst health care professionals to discuss weight gain with pregnant women, because they considered it a sensitive and emotional topic and also because there was a perception that weight gain during pregnancy was not something that could be controlled.
Other studies have shown that providing clear advice on recommended weight gain is more likely to assist women to gain within the recommended range. Given that many participants had gained their recommended weight by 16 weeks, it may be helpful if conversations around this subject occur earlier in their pregnancies to enable women to have the information required to reach healthy weight gain targets.
Reference: Jersey, S. J., Nicholson, J. M., Callaway, L. K., & Daniels, L. A. (2012). A prospective study of pregnancy weight gain in Australian women. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 52(6), 545–551.
Do you discuss weight gain with your pregnant clients? Are there any other reasons why you think this subject is not widely discussed with pregnant women?