Eating Wisely During Pregnancy

My midwife was just talking to me about my weight gain and said that I am obese! Now I know I’m overweight – but obese?! That feels like an insult. On the other hand, I want to have a healthy baby.

“Obese” is a term used when your BMI is over a certain amount. We see so many people that are over the normal BMI, we may not realize how much our weight has gotten away from us. Take a look at this fun slider chart

Put in your own height and weight. Then slide the weight up and down. Amazing how “normal” the overweight body looks – because we see a lot of overweight people in our everyday lives.

Spend a day writing down what you eat. Don’t try to be “good” or “bad” – just write it down. At the end of the day, take a look at this food diary. Did you eat things that would help make your baby smart (protein), beautiful (fruits and veggies) and healthy? And how about for you (like whole grains for constipation!).

Where did you eat wisely? Where did you make bad choices?

The moms I know are all over the map with this. But they all had healthy babies. Is it really that big of a deal?

It truly is a big deal. When you are overweight to begin with and take on pregnancy as an eating extravaganza, here are some of the challenges.


  • During labor, you may get stuck in bed so that your baby’s heartrate can be properly monitored. Extra layers of fat make it harder to find your baby’s heartbeat. If you have hypertension or uncontrolled gestational diabetes, these are risk factors that make continuous monitoring important for the safety of your baby.
  • There is a tendency to have longer labors – or after a long labor, to need a cesarean. The reason for this is that toned muscles help the baby’s head to descend. (And poorly toned muscles don’t help the labor to go well.)
  • It’s harder to recuperate from a cesarean (major surgery) than from a vaginal birth. If you have a hard time moving around because of your weight, it makes the recovery that much harder.
  • Having high blood sugar levels during pregnancy makes your baby grow to be – well, basically – overweight. That means there’s less shimmy room for the baby to move around inside and figure the easiest way out, or it may not fit to come out through your pelvis.
  • • Mom’s high blood sugar levels also contribute to babies who have big shoulders. This is considered an obstetric emergency if the baby’s shoulders get stuck (called a shoulder dystocia)  – scary for mom, the doctor or midwife, the nurses, and the dad. Shoulder dystocias may lead to problems for the baby.


  • Welcome to the world, baby – mama’s blood sugar levels were high, you made lots of insulin, and now you are at risk for dangerously low blood sugar levels, which can lead to brain damage. The nurses will prick your heel at one hour, and if that blood sugar level is low, you will have many more heelsticks as you recover from your mama’s eating habits. You may need an IV to help you get weaned from her high blood sugar levels.
  • Baby is at greater risk for birth defects and developmental delays. A recent study in Pediatrics suggested that babies whose moms have gestational diabetes are at higher risk for autism as well.
  • The percentage of moms who are obese and choose to breastfeed is lower than the average for other moms. If baby is born by cesarean, the time it takes to get mom put together after the surgery means that she may be ready to breastfeed – but the baby may have gone into a long sleepy period, no longer bright eyed and ready to eat as it was in the first minutes after birth. That puts baby at risk for all the health challenges of formula fed babies, unless mom gets the help she needs in the next days in the hospital.

Okay, I’m convinced – I should eat wisely during this pregnancy! What does that mean?

Pregnancy is a great time to make changes in your diet. Talk to your doctor or midwife -bring your food diary in to share with them. Take a look at the great MyFoodTracker from the USDA for ideas about what and how much to eat.
Everything you put into your body will help to build your baby.

Your healthcare provider may also suggest you contact our great resources here at BMH. Peg Canal-Wittler MS, RD, CD, CDE from our Nutrition Services department is a wonderful counselor for food issues. And Hoty Smith RN, CDE is one of the best diabetes educators in the Northeast. Moms tell me that these two people have helped them change their lives!

What about exercise?

Join us next week for a look at healthy exercise during pregnancy!

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