Bouncing back from a C-section can take longer if you’re overweight because there is an increased risk of complications, adds Laura E. Riley, M.D., medical director of labor and delivery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Then there’s the effect of excess maternal weight on the baby. The chance of birth defects rises in babies
of women with a BMI of 25 and increases with every point above that. And heavier moms may have more difficulty initiating breastfeeding, though if they keep trying, success is just as likely as it is for normal-weight women.
Don’t panic—act! If you are overweight and pregnant, your reaction to all this talk of risk may be to start worrying. Don’t: Anxiety isn’t good for you or your baby. With proper care and simple lifestyle changes, your pregnancy can go smoothly. McDonald, for example, never developed gestational diabetes or other complications, probably because she was careful to eat well and exercise regularly.
Putting the negative odds into perspective will also help you relax, says Brette McWhorter Sember, co-author of Your Plus-Size Pregnancy: The Ultimate Guide for the Full-Figured Expectant Mom (Barricade Books, 2005). “If you say overweight women have double the risk of something, that sounds awful,” she says. “However, if an average-size woman has a 1 in 100 risk, this means an overweight woman still has only a 2 in 100 risk.” The best way to enjoy this special time of life is to recognize that there’s a lot you can do now to ensure that you have the most trouble-free pregnancy, delivery and recovery possible.
Get Moving Unless you have complications, such as vaginal bleeding or dizziness, exercise is one of the best things any pregnant woman can do for herself. Physical activity helps prevent excess weight gain, combats fatigue and gets you in better shape for labor and postpartum recovery. It may seem like a huge challenge to work out while battling nausea and carrying extra weight, especially if you’ve never been a fan of physical activity. But effective prenatal exercise can be as simple as a walk around the block. “Walking is not a difficult exercise for women who have been sedentary,” Riley says. “Just ease into it, increasing walks to at least 30 minutes per day.”
Prenatal exercise may have extra benefits for larger women. A Canadian study suggests that strength training can decrease the need for insulin in overweight women with gestational diabetes. And Brazilian researchers recently found overweight moms-to-be who get regular aerobic exercise maintain their cardiovascular fitness despite the tendency of most women to become less fit as pregnancy progresses.