Health & Fitness

Making pregnancy safer for obese women, unborn

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A physically active pregnant woman. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • During pregnancy, mothers are cautioned against conditions that may be detrimental to their health and the wellbeing of their unborn children.
  • An example is obesity, which has been linked to an increased risk of future health problems for the unborn.
  • They include birth defects, impaired growth, childhood asthma and heart disease.

During pregnancy, mothers are cautioned against conditions that may be detrimental to their health and the wellbeing of their unborn children.

An example is obesity, which has been linked to an increased risk of future health problems for the unborn.

They include birth defects, impaired growth, childhood asthma and heart disease.

Based on a new study published in the Paediatric Obesity Journal, affected mothers have a window of opportunity during pregnancy to mitigate or forestall some of these negative health effects.

According to the research, improving the lifestyle of women with obesity during pregnancy can help protect their children from cardiovascular problems.

HEART, BLOOD

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term used to describe a range of ailments that affect the heart and blood vessels.

They include heart failure, abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), heart valve problems, heart infections, congenital heart defects and narrowing of blood vessels.

These conditions can lead to adverse health effects like heart attacks and strokes.

The researchers note that diet modifications and physical activity targeting obese pregnant women helps to shield the mother and the baby from these adverse effects.

During the study, scientists from King's College London — supported by the British Heart Foundation and Tommy's Charity — examined how an antenatal diet and physical activity intervention in pregnant mothers with obesity could positively influence the health of the women and their children three years after giving birth.

Mothers who were given a diet and exercise plan were compared to obese women in a control group, who made no changes to their lifestyle during pregnancy.

Follow-up examinations, three years after birth, showed that the children born to mothers that benefited from the intervention had a lower resting heart rate compared to the other children. This was a reflection of their improved health status since a higher resting heart rate is associated with hypertension and cardiovascular dysfunction problems.

The study also showed that mothers in the diet and physical exercise intervention group maintained a healthier diet three years after birth.

"This research shows that a lifestyle intervention in pregnant women, focusing on improving diets and increasing physical activity, is associated with improved cardiovascular function in the child at three-years of age and a sustained improvement in the mothers diet, within the same period,” says Kathryn Dalrymple, the lead author of the study from King's College London.

She states that the study’s findings are exciting as they add to the evidence that pregnancy is a window of opportunity to promote positive health and lifestyle changes, which can benefit both the mother and child.

HEALTHY START

"Obesity in pregnancy is a major problem because it can increase the risk of complications in pregnancy as well as affecting the longer-term health of the child. This study strengthens my resolve to highlight just how important it is that we give children a healthy start in life," noted Lucilla Poston, a senior author of the study and Tommy's Charity Chair for Maternal and Foetal Health.

Lizzie D'Angelo, the organisation’s Research and Policy Director stated: "Pregnancy can be high risk for women who are obese, but trying to lose lots of weight while pregnant is not advised. So, our research focuses on finding new ways to make pregnancy safer for these families. It's very reassuring to see that our researchers have been able to improve mothers' diets and children's heart health in the long term, helping to give these babies the best start in life."

PHYSICALLY ACTIVE

According to Tracy Parker, a senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, keeping physically active and maintaining a balanced diet are both important ways of keeping our hearts healthy. “This research shows that for pregnant women, the benefits don't end there. A healthy diet before, during and after pregnancy can have positive long-term health benefits for both mother and child."

Dietary guidelines for expectant women emphasise on nutrient rich food and beverages during pregnancy.

This includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains — such as oatmeal, whole-grain bread or brown rice — that are rich in fibre, iron and vitamins.

Protein from healthy sources such as beans, peas, eggs, lean meat and low-mercury seafood (like fish), as well as unsalted nuts and seeds are also recommended.

Health experts also encourage the consumption of fat-free or low-fat milk as well as milk products or non-dairy soy, almond, rice and other drinks with added calcium and vitamin D.

As part of a healthy eating plan, they note that pregnant women should limit salt, solid fats (such as butter, lard or shortening) and sugar-sweetened drinks and foods.

Some of the recommended physical exercises include swimming, brisk walking, indoors cycling and low impact aerobics that can be done for 30 minutes each day.