Mothers-to-be warned not to eat for two

Women should lose all their baby weight before getting pregnant again or face an increased risk of complications, according to official health guidelines published last month.

It is a myth that mothers-to-be should “eat for two” or drink full-fat milk, the guidelines say. Such actions are likely to make them put on unnecessary weight they might struggle to shift.

A woman’s energy intake needs to increase only in the last three months of pregnancy, the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) says, and then by about only 200 calories a day—less than an average chocolate bar.

Research shows that retaining even 1kg after giving birth can make problems more likely in a subsequent pregnancy, experts say, with women who have several children on a “slippery slope” if they continue to gain weight each time.

But Nice also warns against trying to lose weight too quickly and says media stories about celebrity claims of “unrealistic and rapid weight loss” after pregnancy are unhelpful, “creating additional pressure on women to lose weight inappropriately at an already stressful time”.

Pregnant women should also be told that moderate physical activity, like cycling to work, will not harm them or their unborn children. The document is published amid growing evidence of the risks female obesity poses for mother and baby, including miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, diabetes and maternal death.

Babies born to obese women face a higher risk of death, stillbirth, congenital abnormality, shoulder dystocia (in which a baby’s shoulder becomes stuck during birth) and an increased likelihood of childhood obesity.

Statistics suggest 15% to 20% of British women are overweight or obese when they get pregnant, with the number estimated to have doubled in the past 20 years.

Lucilla Poston, the director of maternal and foetal research at King’s College London, said health professionals were dealing with “an epidemic of obesity” among pregnant women that put them at increased risk of “almost every complication in the book”. —

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