Midwives are calling for official guidance on how much weight is healthy for women to put on during pregnancy, after a new study suggested women who put on excessive weight are more likely to have overweight children.1

The UK does not have official guidance about how much weight women should gain during pregnancy but the new study, published in the journal Diabetologia, found that women who put on excessive weight during pregnancy are more likely to have children who are overweight, suffer high blood pressure, and develop insulin resistance – which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes – by the age of seven.

NHS advice states that weight gain varies greatly during pregnancy and will depend on a woman’s weight before she conceived.2 Most pregnant women gain between 10kg and 12.5kg (22–26lb). Much of the extra weight is due to the baby growing and the mother’s body storing fat to make breast milk after a baby is born. 

But last year the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists stated that one in five pregnant women in the UK are obese.3 Dr Rajasingham, a spokesperson for the college, said: “It is a myth that women need to ‘eat for two’ during their pregnancy – energy needs do not change until the last three months of pregnancy, when women need an extra 200 calories a day.”

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is now reviewing its current weight advice for pregnancy, which suggests women’s weight and height should be measured at the first appointment, but not repeatedly thereafter.

However, America’s Institute of Medicine has a set of recommendations about weight gain. Underweight women are expected to gain between 28–40lb (12.7–18.1kg) during pregnancy, while healthy weight women should gain between 25–35lb (11.3–15.9kg), overweight women 15–25lb (6.8–11.3kg), and obese women 11–20lb (5–9.1kg).

Commenting on the new research Mandy Forrester, Head of Quality and Standards at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “In the UK, midwives have to use their own initiative and refer to American guidance. There is a clear need for midwives to have the tools, guidance and training they need so that they can offer women the best possible support and care.”

Overweight children and cancer risk

Overweight and obese children are more likely to stay obese into adulthood and develop non-communicable diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. Being overweight or obese is linked to 12 types of cancer, including breast and bowel cancer.4

References

1. Royal College of Midwives. New research on weight gain during pregnancy. 2018.

2. NHS. How much weight will I put on during my pregnancy?. 2018.

3. Huffington Post. Midwives Call for Clearer Advice Around Healthy Pregnancy Weight Gain. 2018.

4. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Expert Report. Body fatness and weight gain and the risk of cancer. 2018.