Can mother's pregnancy weight impact her child's obesity risk?


Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic, affecting one in every five children in the U.S.

Now, a recent study is showing that both a woman’s pre-pregnancy weight and her weight gain during pregnancy can have an impact on her child’s risk for becoming obese.

The study looked at data on 27,016 mothers and children.

Researchers found that for every two pounds of excess weight in pre-pregnancy, women had a 4.5 percent increased risk of their child becoming obese.

The study also found that children with mothers who had excessive weight gain during pregnancy were 50 percent more likely to become obese.

Results also showed the benefits of breastfeeding were not enough to overcome these weight-related factors.

Dr. Jeffrey Chapa, of Cleveland Clinic, did not take part in the research, but said often times, an expecting mom’s perception of how much weight gain is recommended during pregnancy is off base.

He said it’s important for moms who are overweight at the beginning of pregnancy to know there are different guidelines for how much pregnancy weight gain is recommended. 

A weight gain range of 25-35 pounds is traditionally recommended for women with a normal pre-pregnancy weight, or a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5-24.9.  For women below or above this threshold, the recommendations are different.

“If you’re overweight or morbidly obese, then that 25-35 pounds is probably too much and a 5-10 pound weight gain for the whole pregnancy is probably more appropriate,” said Chapa. “A study like this shows that might be better for the child in terms of the child’s weight gain.” 

Chapa said obesity and excessive weight gain during pregnancy are also associated with complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, which can predispose children to disease later in life.

He said the study underlines how important it is for moms to take care of themselves before beginning a pregnancy.

“If you are overweight, before you get pregnant, it would be a great idea to maybe try and lose some weight, get into better shape, work on your dietary habits and get into a regular exercise program,” said Chapa. “All of these things probably seem very simple, but their impact is tremendous.” 

Chapa said exercise during pregnancy is safe, and helps prevent excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. However, it’s best to check with a doctor before starting any new exercise routine while pregnant. 

Complete results of the study can be found in Preventive Medicine.