Overweight pregnant women who weighed themselves weekly and received text-message reminders about weight early in their pregnancy gained less weight than women who didn't, a new study shows.
Gaining too much weight during pregnancy can bring on diabetes and may pose risks for babies.
"There is not a lot being done in early pregnancy to avoid weight gain and the complications," said study author Catherine Lombard, of the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine in Melbourne, Australia.
The preliminary results from the ongoing study will be presented Sunday (June 12) at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Boston.
The women in the study were overweight, not obese, but were considered at high risk for gestational diabetes due to their weight, age and ethnic background. Further results from the study will determine whether the healthy lifestyle program in which the women participated also reduced gestational diabetes, a serious condition that can cause complications for both the mother and child during the pregnancy.
Overweight and pregnant
Among pregnant women in the United States, about half are overweight or obese, said Dr. Raul Artal, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology and Women's Health at Saint Louis University. Artal conducts research on weight gain during pregnancy but was not involved in the study.
“I and many of my colleagues believe excessive weight gain in pregnancy is a major reason for the obesity epidemic in our country,” Artal said.
The Institute of Medicine guidelines on pregnancy weight gain, which were released in 2009, suggest a gain of 25 to 35 pounds for women of normal weight, 15 to 25 pounds for women who are overweight and 11 to 20 pounds for women who are obese.
Artal said the recommendations "have done a disservice to women." "It is allowing too much weight gain" for women who are already obese or overweight, he said.
Complications from being overweight or obese during pregnancy include higher rates of birth defects and higher risk of gestational diabetes. Women with gestational diabetes are at seven times the risk of getting diabetes later in life than women who do not have the condition, Artal said.
Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes have their own complications. “These babies have a tendency to be very large and therefore have traumatic deliveries, and more complications in delivery and in the first few days of life,” Artal said. These infants are at higher risk for obesity as children and adults.
Text messages and weekly weigh-in
Lombard’s study included 200 pregnant women who were at risk for gestational diabetes. The participants were divided into two groups, one that underwent the educational program and a control group.
At 14 weeks of pregnancy, researchers gave both groups information that emphasized making small, healthy changes to eating and physical activity, such as walking and eating more fruits and vegetables. One group also received information about how much weight they should gain during pregnancy, an instruction to weigh themselves and frequent reminders by text messaging.
At 28 weeks, the women who had received the extra information had gained, on average, about two pounds less than those in the control group.
This difference might seem small, but it is important at that stage of pregnancy, Lombard said.
Further results will measure weight gain during the entire pregnancy, as well as the rates of gestational diabetes in the two groups. The study is following patients through delivery and the first six weeks of each baby’s life.
Pass it on: A healthy lifestyle program conducted early in a pregnancy can help overweight women avoid excessive weight gain.