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SALT LAKE CITY — Contrary to what one might read in a celebrity magazine, most women are still struggling to button those pre-pregnancy jeans when it’s time to celebrate their baby’s first birthday.
A new University of Chicago study that found 75 percent of women weigh more one year after giving birth than they did before they got pregnant with many becoming obese.
Researchers looked at nearly 800 women from five locations across the U.S. They collected height and weight measurements at six months and one year postpartum, and conducted interviews at three different points throughout the study.
At the end of one year, researchers found nearly half of the new mothers who maintained a normal weight before getting pregnant now found themselves at least 10 pounds overweight. A quarter of these women had 25 pounds or more to lose.
“This, unfortunately, showed that pregnancy itself is leading to obesity or being overweight for a substantial number of women,” Dr. Loraine Endres, study author and University of Chicago professor, told Health Day. “It’s a very important issue.”
On average, the women included in the study gained 32 pounds during pregnancy. It may seem like a reasonable amount, but for those who have weight to lose before pregnancy, gaining too much weight in those nine months can be crippling. In short, the “eating for two” mentality is a potentially dangerous one.
Anyone is at risk for (excessive) pregnancy weight gain if you don't have a specific plan in place. This (research) speaks to getting in the best possible shape before conceiving and developing a plan to lose the weight afterward.
–Dr. Timothy Hickman, director at Houston Methodist Hospital.
In fact, pregnant women need only to consume an extra 300 calories per day during their second and third trimesters, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
“The more you gain, the harder it is to lose weight,” Endres said. “From the moment women conceive, as health care providers we need to start talking with them about appropriate weight gain and remaining active.”
The healthy range for women at a normal pre-pregnancy weight is 25 to 35 pounds, while women who are overweight should gain between 15 to 25 pounds, according to the Institute of Medicine. Those falling in the obese category — a BMI over 30 — should restrict weight gain to less than 20 pounds.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a simple tool to calculate BMI here.
So how can a new mother avoid falling prey to the post-baby weight battle?
Starting a pregnancy out at a normal weight can make a big difference, according to health experts. Women who are active before and throughout pregnancy are more likely to lose the weight after giving birth.
“You want to be a healthy, active person,” Dr. Natalie Azar told TODAY Parents. “You want to be healthy when you enter a pregnancy.”
Azar suggests resuming physical activity as soon as the doctor gives the all clear. Typically this happens around six weeks postpartum.
Another factor to consider is the weight at which a pregnant woman gains weight. Doctors recommend a slow and gradual weight gain throughout pregnancy. The recommended rate is 1 to 4 pounds during the first trimester and 2 to 4 pounds per month during the second and third trimesters, according to Choose My Plate.
While the pregnancy cravings are difficult to deny, consider swapping out chili cheese fries for options that are high in folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, protein and iron. These are all nutrients essential for the health of a woman's pregnancy and her baby, according to the Mayo Clinic.
"You're not predestined to have this happen," said Dr. Timothy Hickman, a director at Houston Methodist Hospital. "Anyone is at risk for (excessive) pregnancy weight gain if you don't have a specific plan in place. This (research) speaks to getting in the best possible shape before conceiving and developing a plan to lose the weight afterward."
Jessica Ivins is a content manager for KSL.com and contributor to the Motherhood Matters section.