by Laurie Zuckerman, co-author
As a mother of two, I am well acquainted with the anguish of mother guilt. Am I irrevocably damaging my baby's pyche by letting him cry it out at 2 a.m.? Will my six year old miss out on some great potential as an Olympic hopeful because I couldn't squeeze in gymnastics lessons on top of her dance and martial arts?
But mothers may now be able wipe at least one worry off their lists. A group of British researchers studied the hypothesis that if a woman is overweight during pregnancy, the higher levels of sugar and fatty acids in her blood would affect the developing fetus, predisposing the child to poor appetite control, a slower metabolism and eventual obesity. They reported this week that obesity during pregnancy is not strongly linked to obesity in the offspring.
But mothers aren't totally off the hook. (C'mon we never are.) Children who have obese parents have more than twice the chances of becoming obese as an adult compared with children born to lean parents, according to a New England Journal of Medicine article.
The reason, in part, is genetics. Although the genetic role of obesity is only just beginning to be understood, scientists are uncovering certain genes that are associated with excess weight. In a recent article in Science, researchers identified one gene called FTO that increases a person's risk for obesity. There are likely to be others.
Obviously, however, the story doesn't end with genetics. Numerous studies have shown that children's diet and exercise habits follow those of their parents. No surprise there. Almost any parent can tell you that children learn by example (even "and sometimes especially" when we don't want them to follow in our footsteps). Of course, as we talk about extensively in the book, America's obesity-inducing environment doesn't help.
There is yet one more serious consideration that any woman carrying extra pounds should consider before conceiving. Beyond the question of how that extra weight may impact her offspring's future weight, obesity in pregnancy raises the risk of a host of issues including delayed diagnosis, increased need for cesarean or instrumental delivery, pre-eclampsia, eclamsia, gestational diabetes, and blood-loss. Obesity in pregnancy also increases risks to the unborn child, including neural tube defects, spina bifida, heart defects, and delivery-related neonatal morbidity.
As a mom who worries, I hate to throw out this scary list of risks. The good news is that pre-pregnancy weight loss significantly reduces pregnancy complications. So if you are overweight and thinking about becoming pregnancy, talk to your doctor first.