The Dangers of Gaining Too Much Weight During Pregnancy

Learn why too many pregnancy pounds could be risky for you and your baby.
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As long as the numbers on the scale don't get out of control, it's okay to give in to an occasional craving. Still, some women manage to go overboard by eating for two (linebackers!) and becoming less active than they were pre-conception -- and that could be dangerous for both Mom and baby. "You don't need to gain a ton of weight to have a healthy baby," says Anita Sadaty, M.D., an ob-gyn based in Great Neck, New York. In fact, an average-sized woman should pack on only 25 to 35 pounds over the course of nine months -- any more than that and you're asking for trouble. Here's a look at the risks of gaining too much weight during pregnancy. Keep these in mind when you're mid-craving, and it might be a little easier to put down those Oreos.

Being pregnant will just feel harder. Not every woman will experience the most annoying pregnancy symptoms, including varicose veins, achy joints, and heartburn. But those who tack on too much weight are more likely to develop them, Dr. Sadaty says. Extra weight puts pressure on your body overall, making it harder for blood and fluids to move around on the inside, and for you to move around on the outside. This can trigger leg cramps, hemorrhoids, backaches, physical exhaustion, and more.

You'll be more likely to develop diabetes. "Women who gain too much weight during pregnancy are more prone to gestational diabetes, a dangerous condition in which your body is unable to produce enough insulin to balance glucose levels in your blood," says Kathleen M. Rasmussen, Sc.D., R.D., professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University and chair of the committee on the report Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Reexamining the Guidelines at the Institute of Medicine. The good news is that most moms with gestational diabetes won't remain diabetic after the baby is born. Still, being diagnosed with the condition puts you at higher risk for getting it again during a future pregnancy and for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

You're more likely to have complications during your delivery. Gaining too much weight typically increases the size of your baby. Having a big baby isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it can make labor more difficult. Large babies have a tough time getting pushed out naturally, often making a last-minute caesarean section necessary. "And heavier babies tend to get shoulder dystocia, a condition in which the shoulders are larger than the head, making natural birth extremely painful and, in many cases, impossible," Rasmussen says. Having a C-section isn't the end of the world -- after all, some women plan for them -- but it can delay milk production and lengthen your post-birth recovery time.

The more you gain, the longer it takes to lose it. "Bouncing back after giving birth is a lot easier when don't gain too much weight," Dr. Sadaty says. Once that baby's out, you'll notice an immediate drop in weight -- about 11 pounds, which accounts for your new little one, the amniotic fluid, and the no-longer-essential placenta. The rest of the weight can take months to lose -- longer if you gain a significant amount. "Even if you breastfeed you're going to have to put in a lot of effort to work off all those extra pounds," says Andrea Orbeck, a fitness trainer in Los Angeles who helps A-list clients maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy.

You put your baby at a disadvantage too. "An overweight mother is more likely to give birth to a large baby with a greater risk of diabetes and obesity throughout childhood, and beyond," Rasmussen says.

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