Imagine you just found out you’re pregnant. You start your prenatal vitamins, stop drinking alcohol, and start eating healthier “for the baby.” But what about the ‘you’ pre-baby? New research states that overweight or obese mothers are 18% more likely to deliver babies with heart defects and 30% more likely if they are severely obese.
Among all birth defects, heart defects are the leading cause of illness, death, and costly medical expenses. Much like folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects; a healthy weight pre-conception will reduce the risk of heart problems.
The study used a traditional body mass index (BMI) chart which depends on two factors, your height and weight. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 – 29.9. Obese is 30-34.9 and severely obese is over 35.
As an example, a 5’6” woman weighing 167 pounds has a BMI of 27 or ‘overweight.’ If that same woman weighed 192 pounds her BMI would increase to 31 putting her into the obese category. A severely obese 5’6” woman would weigh 230 pounds as her BMI would be 37.
The study encouraged women to get down to a healthy weight pre-pregnancy to reduce the risk of heart defects (among other things) through diet and exercise. Work with your health care provider to have your complete thyroid checked and your hormones examined. Consider adrenal testing through a saliva test to examine your stress response and make sure you are not anemic or borderline anemic (either iron or B12). Cut out the diet sodas and fancy coffee drinks with sugar (including lattes and mochas) and drink more water. Increase your protein and vegetable intake and reduce your simple white flour carbohydrates and fried fast foods. Stop drinking alcohol – it’s empty no-nutrition calories and not good for pregnancy anyways. Lastly, have your blood sugar and insulin checked as rising levels means more belly fat.
Protect your long-term health by keeping within a healthy BMI range and you will protect your future baby’s heart as well.
Gilboa SM, Correa A, Botto LD, et al. Association between prepregnancy body mass index and congenital heart defects. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2009;201-204.