A recent study in Brazil has found that exercise did little to prevent overweight women from excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Researchers from the UNICAMP Medical School in Campinas worked with 82 heavy women, who were all between 3 1/2 to 5 months pregnant. Half of the group went to weekly exercise classes and received counselling about nutrition and weight, while the others simply had prenatal care.
The result? Half of the women from both groups gained more weight than recommended. Those who exercised gained an average of 22 pounds and the others gained close to 36. There was no marked differences in the health of the babies at birth based on their mother’s activity levels.
Dr. Patrick Catalano, a maternal-fetal medicine researcher from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, says that the results are unsurprising: “Lots of studies have not shown any benefits relative to weight gain in pregnancy using either diet or exercise.”
Overweight women should only gain between 15 and 25 pounds during pregnancy, according to the Institute of Medicine, while obese women should only put on 11 to 20 pounds. Being overweight or gaining too much weight during the gestational period can increase the probability of birth defects, a Cesarean section or of delivering a large baby. Excessive weight gain during pregnancy also increases the likelihood that a mother will not lose the ‘baby weight’ after the birth.
Dr. Raul Artal, head of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, says that cultural messages about pregnancy have helped to promote overeating and sedentary behavior in expectant mothers.
“Pregnancy is not a state of confinement and indulgence. It’s an ideal time for behavioral modification for the benefit of both mother and the baby,”says Artal, who makes note of the fact that this is not simply a ‘pregnant woman’s problem’, but an issue with people all across the board.
“The sad thing is that as a society we have become more sedentary and more overweight and obese. This is not confined to pregnant women.”
Researchers from the study have recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day for overweight and obese pregnant women, along with stretching and nutrition counseling. It is also imperative that women develop good exercise habits prior to becoming pregnant and remain consistent as they prepare to give birth.