By Lori Wolfe, CGC, MotherToBaby North Texas

Nicole called me in tears. She had been trying to become pregnant for the past nine months and was not having any luck. She asked if it could be due to being overweight. As I talked with Nicole, I found out she is about 100 pounds over a healthy weight for her height. As a MotherToBaby specialist, I often talk with women who are trying to become pregnant. It just so happened this question came along as I was reviewing tips for January’s Birth Defects Prevention Month. Tip #4 is: Before you get pregnant, try to reach a healthy weight.

I explained to Nicole that studies have shown that women who are overweight can have a number of different problems trying to become pregnant, but she shouldn’t worry. Many of the problems outlined below can be reversed when healthy eating and exercise are incorporated into her routine. Some of the issues which can result from being overweight while trying to conceive include:

  1. An increased chance of having irregular or absent periods, making it difficult to conceive
  2. Producing too much estrogen, which can also make it harder to get pregnant
  3. An increased chance of having complications during fertility treatments
  4. Having polycystic ovary syndrome , a hormonal disorder that is a major contributor to infertility in women of child bearing age

Once they get pregnant, women who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk for the following complications during pregnancy:

  • Miscarriage
  • Heart disease
  • Increased chance for a birth defect in the baby
  • Gestational diabetes
  • High blood pressure and preeclampsia (a dangerous kind of high blood pressure that can happen during or right after pregnancy))
  • Cesarean birth

After discussing all of this with Nicole, her next question to me was what can she do to reduce these possible risks? Fortunately, most women with overweight can expect to have a healthy pregnancy. I explained to Nicole that it is best to talk with her doctor and try to lose weight before becoming pregnant. Losing weight once you are pregnant is not advised. Start now to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly before pregnancy, and keep this up once you become pregnant.

Healthy eating includes folic acid
Another important Birth Defects Prevention Month tip is Tip #1: Be sure to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.

We all need folic acid every day in our bodies to help make new cells. Folic acid is a synthetic form of Vitamin B9, also known as folate. It is very important to take enough folic acid just before and during pregnancy. Many studies have shown that taking 400 mcg of folic acid before and early in pregnancy every day reduces the chance that a baby will have serious birth defects of the spine and brain, called neural tube defects (NTDs). This is even more important in women who are overweight as their body requires more folic acid.

Nicole was relieved to hear that her weight didn’t have to be an obstacle and that there were things she could do to increase her chance of becoming pregnant and having a healthy baby. Losing weight, eating healthy foods and daily exercise can increase her chances of becoming pregnant and can decrease her chances of miscarriage, birth defects and other pregnancy problems. She said she will call her health care provider right away to schedule an appointment to talk about everything and was excited that the future looked brighter to one day become a mom!

Lori Wolfe, CGC, is a board certified Genetic Counselor and the Director of MotherToBaby’s North Texas affiliate. MotherToBaby aims to educate women about medications and more during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Along with answering women’s and health professionals’ questions regarding exposures during pregnancy/breastfeeding via MotherToBaby’s toll-free number, text line and by email, Wolfe also teaches at the University of North Texas, provides educational talks regarding pregnancy health in community clinics and high schools.

About MotherToBaby
MotherToBaby is a service of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), suggested resources by many agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you have questions about exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding, please call MotherToBaby toll-FREE at 866-626-6847 or try out MotherToBaby’s new text information service by texting questions to (855) 999-3525. You can also visit MotherToBaby.org to browse a library of fact sheets about dozens of viruses, medications, vaccines, alcohol, diseases, or other exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding or connect with all of our resources by downloading the new MotherToBaby free app, available on Android and iOS markets.