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The 600-Pound Pregnancy

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Obese expectant moms may be making babies fat before they're even born.

Want proof that the U.S. obesity epidemic has hit the pregnant population?

To avoid having to weigh some of his overweight maternity patients on the hospital loading dock, one OB/GYN in Michigan recently replaced the standard scales in his office with new ones that accommodate more than 800 pounds.

This is just one extreme example of the growing trend of seriously overweight moms-to-be that was recently reported in The New York Times. The story highlights some disturbing stats, including the fact that one in five women who give birth in the U.S. is obese. In addition, more OB/GYNs report that they are seeing pregnant women who are morbidly obese--weighing in at as much as 600 pounds. In fact, the Michigan doctor, who already sees more than a dozen morbidly obese pregnant women per month, will direct his hospital's new center for Bariatric Obstetric Care, which caters to overweight women and opens later this summer.

Experts say that obesity in pregnancy is not only risky for the moms-to-be, it's also dangerous for babies, who are at greater risk of neural-tube defects as well as other malformations and are also more likely to be born prematurely.

And some research even suggests that just by developing in the womb of an obese woman, a fetus may become predisposed to obesity. Says the Times story, "Scientists theorize that the mother's dietary intake, weight or circulating levels of nutrients and hormones sends a signal to the fetus, influencing its appetite control, metabolism, and the way its genes are expressed."

In light of these findings, some doctors now recommend that obese pregnant women be encouraged to lose weight during pregnancy rather than gain or even maintain a constant weight. "For extremely obese women, I would advocate that they don't gain weight," says OB/GYN and momlogic contributor Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz. "Medically, they don't need to."

But Gilberg-Lenz stresses that rather than focusing on the numbers, it's more important to look at the patient's health holistically. She advises patients to focus on doing what's healthy for mother and her developing baby.

"I am on a mission get people to stop focusing on rigid guidelines," she says. "It's about making lifestyle changes. Women are highly sensitive about their bodies. But I want patients to understand that maintaining a healthy weight isn't just about how they look, it has serious medical implications."

For overweight women who are pregnant, Gilberg-Lenz suggests that they request an early screening for gestational diabetes and also schedule a consultation with a nutritionist to help them maintain healthy eating habits. Plus, she says, they should take full advantage of their frequent visits to their OB/GYN.

 "I tell women to work in partnership with their health care provider since they're going to be seeing this person regularly throughout their pregnancy. Women are often highly motivated when they're pregnant, so it's a great time to for them to become empowered and take on the challenge of living a healthier lifestyle."

How did your weight affect your pregnancy?

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