Theresa Sprague weighed 225 pounds when she conceived twins. Though her size put her at a higher risk for serious complications, luckily she didn't end up having health problems. But she did have a lot of anxiety: Sprague wasn't able to hear her babies' heartbeats until she was halfway through her pregnancy -- not at the usual 10 to 12 weeks -- because sound waves don't travel well through fatty tissue. An ultrasound helped ease her worries a little, but her extra body mass also made it difficult to get a good image of the babies. When Sprague delivered her sons at 38 weeks gestation, the mom from Maryland, New York, breathed a big sigh of relief.
More than half of women ages 20 to 44 are overweight, and of those, nearly a third are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight women are already more likely to have health complications -- but pregnancy increases the risks for both mother and baby. "Obesity is a disease, and as with many diseases, there's a greater chance of problems during pregnancy," says Vivian Dickerson, MD, director of women's healthcare and programs at Hoag Memorial Hospital, in Newport Beach, California.
Doctors aren't as concerned about what your scale says as they are about your body mass index (BMI), an estimate of body fat based on weight and height (calculate yours at parents.com/BMI). But a high BMI doesn't necessarily mean you're going to have medical issues: Many plus-size moms have problem-free pregnancies. Weight is a number just like maternal age. "Being older than 35 places some women at higher risk for problems, but most do just fine," says Dr. Dickerson. The same holds true for overweight women. Knowing what to watch out for if you're plus-size and pregnant is the first step to having a healthy nine months.