Fat from the womb: New study links childhood obesity to mom's pregnancy weight gain

BlogHer Original Post

Women who have average weight gain during pregnancy might have to cut down on calories, according to a Harvard study that found expectant moms who gain the recommended amount of weight and women who gain too much are more likely to have heavy toddlers. (Source: "Mom's Heavy Burdens" by Jessica Fargen.)

Okay, I concede that maybe this is news, but still I'm not really sure that there's much news here for people who've been there done that.

Never-pregnant-until-now mommies or hoping-to-be-pregnant-soon mommies may mull this study over, and certainly they should look at the new guidelines, but those of us who've tackled fat with ourselves and our offspring probably already know this study's news in our pinch-more-than-an-inch guts. I mean, haven't we already been told that medical science says some people inherit obesity and also that our parents' poor eating habits influence our eating habits? Haven't we also been told that average adults have a certain amount of fat cells that inflate and deflate, but that during development children can grow more fat cells and from then struggle more with weight than the "average" people? And who hasn't heard about America's obesity epidemic?

Wouldn't it seem logical that if mommy's overeating during her pregnancy that baby may put on too much weight and have problems down the road? I can hear my mother's voice saying, "So, it's the mother's fault again, huh?" Oh, the cruelty of knowledge!

Fargen's article also says the following:

Heavier newborns could be linked to the skyrocketing number of Caesarian sections and mean that the spiraling childhood obesity problem starts before birth. Nearly 14 percent of kids aged 2 to 5 are overweight, up from 5 percent in 1980.

My first thought when I heard about this study (before I read Fargen's piece) was this: Is it possible that women who gain weight easily anyway are likely to gain more weight during pregnancy? If so, then how do "the experts" know whether genetics are playing a role in these study results again?

Oh, that damned DNA, the screw that screws us all. Must we spend all our lives working against the bad genes?

I'm one of those women with a family history of obesity, who struggles with gaining weight too easily. Uh, smell food, gain weight! I think it need not touch my lips. And maybe it doesn't considering that some scientists also say stress can make us gain weight, or is it that under stress we overeat and get too depressed to exercise? Have you noticed that the only thing anyone can agree on is eat less and exercise more? There is no magic pill.

So, what's this? I've cursed my children?

Like their mom, my children struggle with gaining weight easily, and yes, I've worked with them on proper nutrition and being more active. For instance, my son, birth weight disputed by doctors and so said to be 8.2-8.9 lbs., walks 20 minutes to school each day and then back again, marches in marching band, lifts weights at least five days a week, and still struggles with his weight even when he's very careful about what he eats.

Like most heavy kids, he observes friends who are couch potatoes, who also eat whatever they please and don't gain weight. I have such friends as well, relatives too.

Unlike my son, I was born as what my dad calls "a five-pound bag of sugar." Now, those were the days, so few! My mother, however, weighed 12 pounds at birth, but she wasn't a fat child. From what I can see of her childhood and teenager pictures, she didn't gain weight until after my birth. The family points to my father's mother, a short, chubby Creole, and says, I'm like her.

I didn't gain more than the recommended weight based on old guidelines with either of my children. However, this new study suggests that perhaps some heavy women could lose weight during pregnancy and still have a healthy baby. (I've known some who did.) The study also says that pregnancy requires no more than three hundred additional calories per day, which may cramp the style of pregnant women who say "I'm eating for two," and eat enough for two adults not one adult and a newborn.

Old guidelines vs. new Guidelines

The current federal guidelines, published in 1990, call for more weight gain during pregnancy than had been recommended in the past. The revision was motivated by concerns that low weight gain led to babies of low birth weight.

Using standard body mass index (BMI) measures of body weight, the guidelines recommend the following pregnancy weight gains:

  • 28 to 40 pounds for underweight women

  • 25 to 35 pounds for women of normal weight
  • 15 to 25 pounds for overweight women
  • At least 13 pounds for obese women

    Pregnancy weights have been increasing over the last two decades, and the rate of obesity among young children has reached epidemic levels. (WebMD)

    I came in under 25 lbs. of weight gain during both pregnancies; even in pregnancy I worried about being the fattest one. So, I wondered, given my history, that perhaps I was a little too quick to see flaws in this study, but I'm not alone.

    ... some Boston-area moms are skeptical of the tie between weight gain and baby fat.

    "It doesn’t matter," said a pregnant Stephanie Studley, 28, of Whitman at Babies 'R' Us in Braintree. "I just think the baby is going to be the same size whether you gain 20 pounds or 50 pounds.”

    Added Karen Donovan, 37, of Quincy, who gained 44 pounds, which is more than usually advised, "I was worried, but it was the only time I ate with no guilt." Donovan’s 14-month-old girl is underweight for her age. (again Fargen's article)

    I wouldn't go so far as the expectant mother who says "it doesn't matter." I also recognize the error in using anecdotal information like, "I know this girl who gained 50 lbs with every pregnancy but all her kids are skinny." So, what am I? I'm glad beyond measure that I'm past this stage in life. I don't plan to birth anymore babies, fat or thin.

    Blogger's Note: Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I'm saying we shouldn't heed such warnings or pay attention to studies, please recognize that I'm not saying women should avoid health advisories about obesity and poor health. I believe we should adopt healthy eating habits and exercise. I write on such topics from the perspective of someone who's been fat for as long as she remembers and who has a documented metabolism disorder that runs in her family. Once treated for Grave's Disease, patients who naturally struggle with weight find the challenge to not gain increases. Guilt junkie that I am, I cry but press on.

    Other Links

  • Mom's Heavy Burden, Boston Herald
  • Pregnant Mom's Weight Affects Toddlers, WABC NYC
  • Secret to Slim Kids: 15 minute bursts of exercise
  • Exercise Alone Won't Help Obesity in Children
  • Nordette's Fat Blog
    Read Nordette's blog at
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