If you’re a woman of size who’s pregnant or trying to conceive, you may find yourself with extra questions about pregnancy in your situation. As a larger person, what can you expect from your nine months of baby-growing? And what exactly is a “plus-size pregnancy”?
There’s no official definition of “plus size.” However, according to the
BMI isn’t always a perfect indicator of whether your weight is healthy or unhealthy — and a high BMI doesn’t necessarily mean your pregnancy will be fraught with scary issues.
Certainly, being pregnant while being overweight may make things more complicated. But the good news is, your pregnancy doesn’t have to be defined by which department of the clothing store you shop in. We’ve got the lowdown on what you need to know.
As you approach a pregnancy in a higher weight category, your focus (understandably) may be on the health of your growing baby. But your health matters, too, and it can be adversely affected by weight-related complications.
Possibly the most well-known risk in a higher-weight pregnancy is that of developing gestational diabetes. This preggo-specific condition causes high blood sugar that needs to be controlled through diet or medications (and usually goes away after the bun is released from your proverbial oven).
The connection between overweight and gestational diabetes is real:
Rates of miscarriage and stillbirth also go up with higher maternal weight. The ACOG states that “The higher the woman’s BMI, the greater the risk of stillbirth” and notes that women with obesity have an increased risk of miscarriage.
Finally, getting pregnant may simply mean you’ll have more aches and pains, like the all-too-common back pain that tends to crop up as pregnancy progresses.
Since these health risks aren’t insignificant, it’s important to discuss them with your doctor before getting pregnant, if possible.
Just as your weight can make a difference to your health in pregnancy, it can affect baby’s well-being, too. Not surprisingly, one major concern is the size of your baby in utero (and on the way out).
Since gestational diabetes often leads to higher birth weight, if you have this complication, you may end up with a larger baby. While chubbier babies are, of course, adorable, their size can make their exit more precarious; high birth weight babies may actually get injured during vaginal delivery.
Another consideration for baby’s health is the possibility of a preterm birth. A large
Learning the risks of pregnancy for yourself and baby may feel a bit overwhelming. Thankfully, there are steps women of size can take to reduce the chances of landing with weight-related complications.
Your first — and best — line of defense? Start early.
“It’s best to plan at least 6 months ahead of actually getting pregnant so you can be your healthiest self before carrying your most vulnerable passenger,” says Sherry A. Ross, MD, an OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Ross encourages working with your doctor and/or a dietitian to get into your best pregnancy shape through diet and exercise.
If losing weight pre-baby wasn’t in the cards and you’re already “on the nest,” healthy food choices and increased activity are still best bets for maintaining a healthy weight — and, therefore, a healthier pregnancy.
“Well-controlled weight gain during pregnancy is key,” says Jamie Lipeles, DO, founder of Marina OB/GYN in Marina Del Rey, California. “The most important steps a [woman with extra weight] can take to avoid all the mentioned risks are diet and exercise.”
And don’t forget to stick with your prenatal vitamins. “In addition to a well-balanced diet, I encourage my patients to begin taking prenatal vitamins and additional folic acid prior to getting pregnant,” says Lipeles. (Of course, keep taking them while you’re pregnant, too!)
And now for the million-dollar question: Just how much weight should you gain over 9 months if you’re a person of size? According to the
Ross emphasizes that a slow start is usually best when it comes to weight gain in your pregnancy. Over the course of your three trimesters, she explains how this might look: “You should gain about 2 to 4 pounds during your first 3 months of pregnancy and a half pound a week for the remainder of your pregnancy.”
The baby bump is the most obvious visual indicator of pregnancy — anticipated by family members, photographed for Instagram, and proclaimed by tabloids about celebrity pregnancies. But for women of size, this particular outward sign of pregnancy may or may not be “a thing.”
“A [woman who is overweight] may never show during pregnancy,” says Ross. “There are so many variables taken into consideration when she is pregnant, especially her starting weight and how much she gains during the pregnancy.”
But don’t dismay! Eventually your bump is likely to pop. “Usually by the last couple months of pregnancy, the abdominal area grows in such a way to expose the pregnancy, regardless of [size],” Ross notes.
According to Lipeles, the appearance of your baby bump may also depend on your body shape — for example, whether you’re more of a so-called “apple” or “pear.”
“[Women of larger size] with a pear-shaped body can expect to show only slightly later in the pregnancy than other women. Pear-shaped women [of larger size] will likely show between 16 and 20 weeks,” he estimates.
“In contrast, some women will have a different weight distribution and body type, referred to as apple-shaped body. The apple-shaped woman [of larger size] can expect to show between 20 and 24 weeks of pregnancy.”
Sometimes, you may be feeling physically great and emotionally pumped about meeting your sweet little bundle — only to have a family member or stranger at the grocery store make an insensitive remark about your weight and your pregnancy. Ouch. (Or perhaps a comment comes when you were already feeling low — double-ouch.)
When others speak unkind words, try to remember that your weight isn’t anyone else’s business. The only people who have a right to discuss your size are you, your doctor, and anyone else you choose to allow in the conversation.
If negative comments continue to bring you down, try a simple visualization for resilience, such as imagining yourself surrounded by a shield of armor that protects you against hurtful words.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to document (and celebrate) your successes! Taking time to acknowledge your progress — whether going to the gym twice in a week or passing your gestational diabetes test with flying colors — can build the positive sense of self that will help you brush off other people’s demeaning comments.
We’ve covered a lot of ground, but you may be left with one question: Can your pregnancy be a healthy pregnancy? Though overweight and obesity do bring increased risks, in the end, you have some control over the answer.
“Pregnancy is a great excuse to live a healthy lifestyle,” says Lipeles. “Most often, pregnancy encourages women to learn about diet and exercise and live the healthiest lifestyle they have ever lived! For a woman [who is overweight], this new healthy lifestyle will yield a happy, healthy pregnancy.”