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Safe Weight Loss Tips for an Obese Pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, it’s important to eat enough to give your developing baby the vital nutrients they need to grow strong. Most doctors encourage women to gain a little weight during their pregnancy, but what should you do if you’re already obese?

Obese women have a greater risk of pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. Their babies also have a higher risk of premature birth and certain birth defects. In the past, doctors didn’t want to promote weight loss during pregnancy for obese women because they were afraid it would hurt the baby. But new research shows that obese women can safely exercise and diet to lose weight without any negative impact on their baby’s well-being.

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If you’re obese, you can still have a healthy pregnancy and delivery. Read on to find out tips for how to lose weight safely and effectively during pregnancy.

Is it safe to lose weight during pregnancy?

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal found that obese women who were offered diet and exercise counseling during their pregnancy had better outcomes for both mother and baby. The women received information on eating a balanced diet, keeping a food diary, and engaging in light physical activity like walking.

The study found that these interventions, especially dietary changes, were associated with a 33 percent reduced risk of preeclampsia and a 61 percent reduced risk of gestational diabetes. Eating healthfully also reduced the risk for gestational hypertension and preterm delivery.

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If you’re obese and pregnant, your pregnancy could be the perfect opportunity to start fresh with a healthy lifestyle.

Am I considered obese?

You’re considered obese if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. BMI is calculated using your height and weight. You can enter your information and find out your BMI with an online calculator. If you’re obese, you’re certainly not alone. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in every 3 adult women in the United States is obese.

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What are the risks if you’re pregnant and obese?

Obesity increases your risk of complications during pregnancy. The higher your BMI, the higher your risk of the following:

  • miscarriage
  • gestational diabetes
  • high blood pressure and preeclampsia
  • blood clots
  • heavier bleeding than normal after the birth

These problems can also happen to any pregnant woman, obese or not. But with a higher BMI, the risk increases.

What are the risks for baby if you’re pregnant and obese?

Obesity might also increase the risk of issues for your baby.

Problems for your baby may include:

  • being born early (before 37 weeks)
  • higher birth weight
  • more body fat at birth
  • stillbirth
  • birth defects like spina bifida
  • increased risk of having a chronic condition like heart disease or diabetes later in life

How can I safely lose weight during pregnancy?

Whatever you do, do it in moderation. Now isn’t the time to experiment with a strict fad diet or an intense exercise program.

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Consult with your doctor

Talk to your doctor before you begin an exercise program while pregnant. They can help you come up with a routine and answer any questions you may have. Your doctor can also refer you to a dietitian or trainer for assessment and personalized advice on healthy eating and exercise during pregnancy.

Treat your pregnancy as an opportunity

Pregnancy can be a great time to start an exercise program and change your diet. Pregnant women are more likely to visit their doctor on a regular basis and ask a lot of questions. They also tend to be highly motivated to change their lifestyle in order to keep their baby healthy.

Start slowly

You should start any new exercise slowly, and build up gradually over time. Begin with just five or 10 minutes of exercise each day. Add five more minutes the next week.

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Your ultimate goal is to stay active for roughly 30 to 45 minutes each day. Walking and swimming are both excellent choices for people new to exercise. They’re both gentle on the joints.

Keep a journal

An online food journal is a great way to make sure you're getting adequate nutrients and drinking enough water every day. You can determine whether or not your diet includes too much sugar or sodium, or if it’s lacking in a certain important nutrient. A journal is also a useful tool for tracking your mood and hunger levels.

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In addition, a journal is the best way to plan your workout schedule and create a routine that works for you. The sooner you can get into a routine, the better.

Many websites also have a community forum available so you can connect with other people who have similar goals. You can also share fitness routines, recipes, and other tips for keeping up with your new healthy lifestyle.

Avoid empty calories

During pregnancy, eat and drink the following in moderation (or cut out completely):

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  • fast food
  • fried food
  • microwave dinners
  • soda
  • pastries
  • sweets

In one study, researchers found that changes in diet were more effective than exercise alone in helping women reduce weight gain and improve outcomes for their baby. The women ate a balanced diet with a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fats, and kept a food diary to make sure they were getting the right nutrients.

Ditch diet fads

Your pregnancy is not the time to try out a new diet fad. These diets are often very calorie-restrictive. They won’t provide your baby with the nutrients they need to stay healthy. In fact, diet fads can be extremely dangerous for your baby if they cause you to lose weight too quickly, or if they only allow you to eat a very small range of foods. Your baby needs a lot of different vitamins, and can’t get them on a restrictive diet. It’s better to look at it as a lifestyle change, not a diet.

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Don’t overdo workouts

Moderate intensity physical activity won’t harm your baby. But strenuous exercise can be dangerous during pregnancy. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to carry on a conversation with a friend comfortably while exercising. If you’re breathing too heavily to talk, then you are probably working out too hard. Listen to your body. If something hurts, stop working out and take a break.

Avoid any type of contact sports or activities that can throw you off balance and make you fall, such as skiing, horseback riding, or mountain biking.

If you want to cycle, a stationary bicycle is safer than a regular bike.

Take a prenatal supplement

While a healthy, balanced diet contains most of the necessary vitamins and minerals for you and your baby-to-be, taking a prenatal supplement can help fill in any gaps. Prenatal vitamins differ from an adult multivitamin. They contain more folic acid to prevent neural tube defects and more iron to help prevent anemia.

Prenatal supplements may also help you ward off cravings and overeating because your body won’t feel deprived.

You can have a safe pregnancy and delivery if you’re obese. But a cesarean delivery is riskier. For the best possible outcomes if your BMI is greater than 30, your total weight gain during pregnancy should be about 11 to 20 pounds. For these reasons you should monitor your weight, exercise regularly, eat nutritious foods, and be as healthy as you can be.
– Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI

The takeaway

If you’re obese, you can still have a healthy pregnancy. Try to stay active and eat healthy foods. Providing your baby with the vitamins and nutrients they need is more important than the number on the scale. If you can’t lose weight, don’t fret. Just keep up with the healthy eating and moderate exercise, and try to limit weight gain.

Once you’re home with your baby, continue your healthy eating and exercise habits so you can be a healthy mom. 

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