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Overweight? It Could Affect Your Baby

While overweight women conceive and bear healthy babies regularly, if you start out too heavy your baby will be at increased risk for several challenges over time.

Excess weight might lead to your child eventually having attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). If you begin your pregnancy obese then gain more than the recommended amount while carrying the baby, your child is twice as likely to develop ADHD. That’s according to a 2022 study, which also found other factors that tie in. Many overweight women develop gestational diabetes, for example, and that condition, together with excessive pregnancy weight gain, can also lead to offspring with ADHD.

This is how much weight you should gain if you’re pregnant with a single child, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Underweight, BMI under 18.5: 28 to 40 pounds      
  • Normal weight, BMI 18.5 to 24.9: 25 to 35 pounds
  • Overweight, BMI 25 to 29.9: 15 to 25 pounds
  • Obese, BMI 30 and up: 11 to 20 pounds

ADHD is a brain-related issue that may cause children to be extra active and have trouble focusing, and possibly even learning. ADHD affects more than 7 percent of children worldwide, and nearly 10 percent in the United States.

Other Risks

The offspring of overweight and obese women also are at higher risk for several other issues, and researchers are still working to determine why. These include:

  • Childhood obesity. The children of mothers who are overweight at conception are more like than others to become overweight themselves — and not only because of unhealthy family eating habits. Two theories being explored currently involve genes being passed on, and an issue involving gut bacteria.
  • Stillborn babies. You’re more likely to have a stillborn baby if you’re overweight or obese during pregnancy, according to another new study.
  • Macrosomia. Obese women are more likely to give birth to very large babies of at least 8 pounds, 13 ounces, and that can lead to Caesarean section, stillbirth and other complications. Macrosomia is related to gestational diabetes and insulin resistance, which helps you gain weight, and that can be transferred to the baby in the form of low glucose levels.
  • Jaundice. Macrosomia can also result in your newborn having jaundice, due to a higher than average red blood cell count and ultimately more bilirubin than the baby’s liver can handle. Babies this large are also more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, asthma and heart disease as they grow older.
  • Neural tube and heart defects. If you’re carrying excess weight, radiologists might not be able to see heart, spine or brain conditions in an ultrasound, meaning they might not spot birth defects they’d see otherwise.
  • Preterm birth. Your baby is more likely to be born early — and not as fully developed — if you are severely overweight.

Obesity Can Lead to Infertility

If your weight is too high, you might have more trouble conceiving a baby than if your weight were in the average range.

Talk to your doctor before conceiving if the scale shows too many extra pounds. Both to increase your odds of having a baby and to protect that baby’s health, consider taking action to shed pounds beforehand. Work with your doctor and a nutritionist or dietitian to develop a sensible, effective diet, or look into one of the available weight-loss surgeries. If you choose the surgical route, allow your body a year to 18 months to heal completely.

Then you’ll be in peak shape to start expanding your family.

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