pregnancy_weightThe “O” word has taken center stage within the media and medical community and no, I’m not talking about Oprah. Obesity has become an epidemic and pregnant women are directly affected.

I witnessed the side effects of obesity through the eyes of my late mother. Social isolation, discrimination and low self-esteem were an everyday occurrence. Behind every obese woman is often an untold story.

According to medical statistics, 66% of Americans are either “overweight” or obese. This includes ten to thirty-six percent of pregnant women. Obesity is discussed using the Basal Metabolic Index (or BMI) and is calculated based upon a patient’s weight and height. A BMI of thirty (200 pounds) or greater is reason for concern.

Ideally, obese pregnant women should seek the professional care of a high-risk obstetrician who is also known as a maternal fetal medicine specialist. Obese women are at an increased risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, cesarean delivery, increased post-operative complications and stillbirths. There is also an increased risk of birth defects but it is not known why. Because obese women have a greater chance of having twins, an early ultrasound should be obtained.

How much weight should an obese woman gain during her pregnancy? No more than 11 to 20 pounds according to the Institute of Medicine. And pregnancy is not the ideal time to lose weight. The body requires a daily minimum of 300 additional calories. And it’s the quality of the food that’s important. Not the quantity.

Obese women should seek the services of a clinical nutritionist during their pregnancy and maintain a daily food diary. Every state offers the WIC (Women, Infants & Children) program that has a nutritionist or dietician on staff. I strongly encourage pregnant women to take advantage of their services.

Although obesity poses additional challenges, with proper support and guidance, the outcomes for most women are safe deliveries and healthy babies.