Keeping baby weight may lead to health risks
The post-pregnancy motto, “nine months on, nine months off” holds true, according to new research. A study published in the journal Diabetes Care finds that weight gain in the year after giving birth may contribute to a woman’s risk of diabetes and heart disease later in life.
“Pregnant women who have gained a significant amount of weight are at higher risk of hypertension and diabetes during pregnancy,” says Dr. Agnieszka Silbert, cardiologist on staff at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill. “In the past, we felt that once the pregnancy has ended, those problems went away. Now we find that these risks continue to be elevated if they maintain this extra weight after their pregnancy.”
Researchers tracked the weight changes of 305 women before pregnancy and at three and 12 months post-partum. These women were grouped into four categories depending on if they lost or gained weight at these two periods. Between three and 12 months post-pregnancy, a majority of women (about 75 percent) lost their so-called “baby weight.”
However, the other 25 percent of women who either retained or gained weight showed an increase in risk factors for diabetes and heart disease. These women had higher blood pressure, higher LDL cholesterol and greater insulin resistance, among other risk factors. As a result of these findings, the study suggests that keeping baby weight a year after pregnancy poses serious health risks for women.
“I advise patients to lose the weight they gained during pregnancy to benefit their overall health,” says Dr. Carol Korzen, obstetrician/gynecologist on the staff at Sherman Hospital. “Excessive weight increases heart disease risk factors for any patient, whether post-pregnancy or not.”
These same risk factors were not present in the 81 percent of women who gained weight between pre-pregnancy and three months after delivery.
According to Dr. Korzen, weight retention at three months is considered “normal” and does not lead to long-term health problems.
“Women shouldn’t expect to return to their pre-pregnancy weight three months after pregnancy,” Dr. Korzen says. “This might be a little too soon, especially for a woman who is breastfeeding. Women shouldn’t dramatically lose weight while breastfeeding.”
According to Dr. Silbert, a major concern currently is the fact that more women are gaining excessive weight during their pregnancy, making it difficult to lose their baby weight.
“Pregnancy is essentially a stress test for women – if you fail the stress test, you are at a much higher risk for heart attack, hypertension, stroke and vascular disease in the future,” Dr. Silbert explains.
Dr. Korzen advises her patients to lose their baby weight by six months post-pregnancy. To lose weight in a healthy way, decreasing calories and increasing physical activity is key.
“Since new moms are sleep deprived and have a completely different schedule than before baby, they need to find a fitness program they can stick with long-term,” Dr. Korzen says. “They need to find something they can fit in every day, such as 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise.”
To make shedding that excess baby weight more achievable, it’s important for women to stay fit throughout their pregnancy, Dr. Silbert notes.
“I strongly encourage women to stay fit throughout their pregnancy and maintain a similar diet, just increase the caloric intake slightly,” she says. “Your OB/GYN can tell you how much weight you gained in your first trimester so you can see if you’re on a healthy track.”
Since this study only tracks participants up to a year after pregnancy, Dr. Korzen acknowledges that future research should look at how weight gain in the year after pregnancy plays out long-term for patients.
“I’d like to see how keeping the weight at one year has an effect on these women five or 10 years down the road,” she says.
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