If you want to be a mom and are having trouble shedding excessive weight, now is the time to get your health in order. That’s the message from Jeffrey Chapa, MD, Head of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Cleveland Clinic.
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“You wouldn’t run a long-distance race without training for it,” says Dr. Chapa. “It’s the same kind of thing with pregnancy. Pregnancy puts a significant strain on your body for nine months. Studies show that getting healthy beforehand can make a world of difference.”
The risks of doing nothing
Approximately one-third of U.S. women of reproductive age are obese, increasing their risk for serious problems during pregnancy and delivery, including:
- Preeclampsia (a high blood pressure condition unique to pregnancy)
- Gestational diabetes
- Large babies
- Complications following vaginal delivery or Cesarean section
Their babies are also at risk for:
- Birth defects
- Obesity in childhood
How lifestyle changes can help
“Patients frequently feel like there’s nothing they can do about their weight,” says Dr. Chapa. “But education, a preconception evaluation and nutritional guidance can be empowering. My goal is to encourage women to say, ‘Look, I can try to do something to lower my risk of complications.’“
Relatively simple changes in lifestyle — eating healthier, exercising regularly, losing weight and managing preexisting medical problems — can lead to better pregnancy outcomes.
“As healthcare providers, we spend a great deal of time diagnosing and treating complications during pregnancy,” says Dr. Chapa. “But we barely touch upon important steps to prevent these conditions. For example, if you’re diabetic, improving control of your blood sugars before pregnancy will lower the risk of birth defects.”
And if you are having trouble becoming pregnant, getting into shape will make it easier to become pregnant. Infertility and risks of miscarriage are far higher among overweight women.
How preconception visits can help
Preconception evaluations can be scheduled when you first start thinking about having a family or after you’ve had a child and want to expand your family.
During the evaluation, your Ob/Gyn will suggest lifestyle changes most likely to help you achieve a healthy weight. He or she may also recommend visits with a registered dietitian. “Many women do not know how much they should weigh or how much weight they should gain during pregnancy,” Dr. Chapa explains.
A dietitian can help you reach weight goal and fitness goals by teaching you how to:
- Make easy, healthy meals at home
- Understand portion control and read food labels
- Stay on track with your weight
Focus on the best future for your child
“Being excessively heavy during pregnancy can negatively affect the health of your child,” says Dr. Chapa. Do your best to ensure a healthy pregnancy and delivery, and you and your child will reap the benefits in the years to come.
To help reduce the risks and complications often seen in this setting, Dr. Chapa helped create Cleveland Clinic’s pioneering Healthy Expectations Program. Led by weight management physician Karen Cooper, DO, the program will offer medical guidance and lifestyle intervention to enhance the mother’s health and weight before, during and after pregnancy.