Moms-to-be who gain too much weight early into their pregnancy are nearly three times as likely to give birth to bigger and fatter babies, a new study has found.
Researchers from University of Alberta in Canada found that women who gained excessive weight during the first half of pregnancy gave birth to heavier and longer babies with more body fat than babies of women who either did not gain as much weight or put it on later in their pregnancy.
The results underscore the need to educate expectant mothers about the dangers of early weight gain during pregnancy and importance of healthy eating and exercise, said lead author Margie Davenport, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation.
"Expectant mothers and health professionals need to be aware of pregnancy weight-gain guidelines and follow them to build a foundation for a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby," said Davenport.
The study included data from 172 healthy, expectant mothers living in London, Ontario, between 1995 and 2011. The women were non-smokers with a body mass index of at least 18.5 when they were between 16 and 20 weeks pregnant.
A BMI below 18.5 is considered too thin; anything above 25 is considered overweight.
All women in the study were encouraged to follow a basic exercise programme of three to four aerobic workouts a week. They also had access to eating guidelines to promote healthy weight gain during pregnancy.
More than half of the study participants - 52 per cent - gained excessive weight during their pregnancies; however, women who gained weight during the first half of their pregnancy were 2.7 times more likely to give birth to bigger, heavier babies.
These babies also had excessive body fat, greater than 14 per cent.
"Healthy eating and physical activity when pregnant have long-lasting benefits to mother and child," Davenport said.
"Infants who are larger at birth tend to become larger children, and that creates a risk for developing into obese and overweight children and adults," Davenport added.