Three decades ago, maternal-fetal medicine specialist Yvonne Thornton, M.D., was determinedly shedding the 67 pounds she gained during her first pregnancy when she found out she was expecting another baby. Thornton vowed not to let that derail her healthy eating habits again. “There was a strong dictum back then that no matter what you weighed, you should gain 26 to 35 pounds during pregnancy or risk fetal death,” says Thornton, now an OB-GYN professor at New York Medical College. “But we put our diabetic pregnant patients on a sensible diet that was safe, so I figured it was OK for me.”
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Thornton focused on eating healthfully and watching portion sizes, recording everything she ate in a food journal. Her weight stayed steady at 222 pounds until she delivered a healthy 8-pound, 8-ounce girl at 43 weeks. “I felt a hundred times better than I did during my first pregnancy,” she says. Two months later, she was down to 160 pounds.
Buoyed by her own success, Thornton conducted a randomized clinical trial over several years to show that emphasizing nutrition rather than weight would lead to healthier pregnancies for obese women (those with a prepregnancy body-mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher). Her study of 232 such women found that those who followed a doctor-monitored nutrition plan gained less weight, had fewer C-sections, were less likely to develop gestational diabetes and retained less weight after delivery. Fifty-seven women gained fewer than 10 pounds, and 23 of them lost weight during pregnancy with no negative consequences.
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