In addition to the weight of the baby they are carrying, pregnant women usually put on some extra pounds, often referred to as “baby fat.”

PhotoThough gaining excess weight isn't good for the mother, doctors have usually refrained from commenting, for fear that a restricted diet might harm the unborn child. Now, researchers from Queen Mary, University of London, say the fear is unfounded.

Their study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) shows that following a healthy diet, overseen by health professionals, prevents excess weight gain in pregnancy and reduces the risk of pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia, diabetes, high blood pressure and early delivery.

Watch your weight

Pregnant women, including those who are obese or overweight, should be encouraged to minimize weight gain through diet, according to major new research from Queen Mary, University of London.

The new research, which brings together the results of 44 separate studies, is the largest of its kind and includes data on more than 7,000 women. It comes at a time when an increasing percentage of women enter pregnancy either overweight or already obese.

The researchers investigated the effect of diet, exercise, or a combination of the two. They looked at how much weight women gained throughout pregnancy and whether mother or child suffered from any complications.

Although all three methods reduced the mother's weight gain, diet had the greatest effect with an average reduction of nearly four kilograms. Exercise only resulted in an average reduction in weight gain of just 0.7kg. Oddly, a combination of diet and exercise only produced and average reduction of one kilogram.

Dieting reduced complications

Women who followed a calorie controlled diet were 33 per cent less likely to develop pre-eclampsia, one of the most dangerous pregnancy complications that presents with raised blood pressure and protein in the urine.

Their risk of gestational diabetes was 60 per cent lower, their risk of gestational high blood pressure was 70 per cent lower and their risk of early delivery was 32 per cent lower. However, the researchers acknowledge that these findings need to be confirmed by further large studies.

Of critical importance, the researchers say, babies' birth weights were not affected by dieting. An expectant mother who piles on the pounds, meanwhile,is a threat to both mother and child.

"Weight control is difficult but this study shows that by carefully advising women on weight management methods, especially diet, we can reduce weight gain during pregnancy. It also shows that following a controlled diet has the potential to reduce the risk of a number of pregnancy complications,” said Dr. Shakila Thangaratinam, a Clinical Senior Lecturer and Consultant Obstetrician at Queen Mary, University of London

The researchers say dietary advice was based on limiting overall calorie intake; balancing protein, carbohydrate and fat; and eating foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and pulses.

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