A new study looks at the link between a woman's pre-pregnancy weight, and the amount she gains during pregnancy, and infant death risk.
pregnant belly, black and white photo
Credit: FOAP

Unthinkably, 24,000 infants die in the U.S. before their first birthday. Now, a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health, and published in the journal Obesity, says women who achieve a healthy weight before becoming pregnant, and gain an appropriate amount during pregnancy, can greatly reduce their child's risk of death during the first year.

To reach their conclusions, researchers looked at a staggering 1.2 million Pennsylvania births between 2003 to 2011, including 5,530 infants who died before they turned 1. They determined pregnant women who gained less than, or much more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy (which was based on their pre-pregnancy weights) were more likely to have babies who didn't make it past their first birthdays. And obese women who gained the optimal amount during pregnancy still had an infant death risk twice as great as women who became pregnant while at healthy weights.

"One in three women start pregnancy at an unhealthy weight, and more than half of women gain either too much or too little weight during pregnancy," lead author Lisa Bodnar, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., associate professor in Pitt Public Health's Department of Epidemiology said in a press release. She added, "While more research needs to be conducted, we are hopeful that this study can be used to start a dialogue between physicians and women on the importance of not only gaining a healthy amount of weight while pregnant, but also reducing excess weight before they become pregnant as a potential way to improve infant survival."

Clearly there's a link between two of the most pressing public health issues facing this nation: obesity and infant deaths. Talk to your doctor about how to achieve a healthy weight if you are considering having a baby, and how you can ensure you gain an appropriate amount, typically about 25 to 35 pounds, during pregnancy.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.