Your pre-pregnancy weight determines a lot more than what size maternity jeans you'll be wearing. It can also have a long-term impact on your future baby's health, says Alison Stuebe, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Stuebe led a team of researchers who found that moms who carried extra weight before their pregnancy were more likely to have obese daughters.
If you're thinking about getting pregnant and weigh more than you'd like to, don't panic. View this as an opportunity. Losing weight now not only benefits your baby down the road, it can also help reduce your risk for pregnancy-related health issues.
One of the easiest ways to determine whether you're at a healthy weight is to check your body mass index, or BMI. Your BMI isn't an exact measurement, but it gives you an idea of the amount of body fat you have. If your BMI is 24.9 or higher, you may be overweight, and it's a good idea to talk with your health-care provider about your pregnancy plans.
You can use a calculator, like the CDC's Adult BMI Calculator, to determine your BMI or figure it out yourself by squaring your height in inches and dividing your weight in pounds by the result of that squared number, then multiplying that number by 703.
There are lots of good reasons to make your health a priority before you get pregnant. Starting a weight loss plan before you get pregnant can help reduce your risk for pregnancy health problems, including high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Working toward a healthy pre-pregnancy weight also benefits your baby: She'll have reduced risk for congenital heart defects and other birth defects, and for Type 2 diabetes, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Development. And as Stuebe found, babies born to moms who were at a healthy pre-pregnancy weight are less likely to end up overweight or obese themselves.
The first step to starting any weight loss regimen is to talk with your health care provider. He'll likely recommend a mixed diet—emphasizing lots of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean proteins and whole grains—and regular exercise to help you achieve your goal. Since you're trying to conceive, fad diets that severely limit your nutritional intake or over- and under-emphasize certain foods aren't a good bet.
While you're at it, increase your intake of folic acid to at least 400 micrograms per day. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects in growing babies, but it plays such an early role that some women may not even know they're pregnant yet when their bodies need that extra folic acid. Increasing your intake as soon as you start trying to conceive is a smart idea. Along the same lines, pre-pregnancy is an ideal time to cut out bad habits, like smoking or drinking too much, that can be harmful to your pregnancy.
Not everyone gets pregnant at exactly the right moment, and if you're pregnant and overweight, don't panic. There are plenty of things you and your health-care provider can do to help you have a healthy pregnancy. For starters, don't try to lose weight when you're expecting. Instead, try to manage your weight gain with your doctor by making healthy food choices and incorporating regular exercise into your routine. Too little weight gain can cause as many problems as too much, says Stuebe, who found that babies whose moms gained 10 or fewer pounds in pregnancy shared a similar future obesity risk with babies whose moms weighed too much when they got pregnant.