A small study published in the February 27, 2013 medical journal Archives of Disease in Childhood – Fetal and Neonatal Edition raises concerns about the effects of maternal excess weight upon the cardiovascular health of their children. The findings were published in a letter and demonstrated that infants of mothers who were overweight (BMI of 25 or more) were found to have an 8 percent increase in aortic wall thickness.
The aorta is the main blood vessel leading out of the heart and traveling down the back to bring blood to the rest of the body. Aortic wall thickness has been shown to correlate with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. The study was very small – only 23 women and their babies were studied and the babies aortas were measured only once within a couple weeks of birth. So at this point, we do not know if the increased thickness is permanent or temporary. Some of the moms were smokers and had diabetes, so larger studies will need to be done to sort out how these factors impact the findings. However this study is important in that it showed a significant correlation between maternal weight and a marker for cardiovascular health in their infants.
Other studies on obesity in pregnancy have shown that maternal obesity increases the risk for childhood obesity. The link between obesity in adults and higher rates of cardiovascular disease are well-established in multiple studies. We are seeing more and more evidence that maternal obesity can affect a child’s health while still in the womb.
This study and others support the notion that healthy weight management during pregnancy may benefit your baby’s health. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend limiting weight gain in pregnancy to lower risks of complications in both mother and baby. For normal weight women, both IOM and ACOG recommend a total weight gain of between 25 and 35 pounds. Underweight women (BMI < 18.5) should gain a little more weight – 28 to 40 pounds. Women who are overweight (BMI of 25.0 to 29.9) should only gain 15 to 25 pounds during pregnancy. Obese women (BMI 30.0 and above) should limit total pregnancy weight gain to 11 to 20 pounds. Normally there should not be much weight gain at all during the first trimester, with most of the weight being gained in the second and third trimesters at a rate of 1 pound a week for normal weight women and only 0.5 pounds a week for overweight women.
Other risks of obesity in pregnancy include diabetes and higher rates of miscarriages and birth defects. If you are overweight and trying to conceive, please talk with your doctor about ways to lose weight safely to improve your fertility and your chances for a healthy pregnancy. If you are already pregnant, it is not too late to start eating healthy and managing your weight today – get help from a professional nutritionist so that you minimize the risks for you and your baby.