The saying that pregnant woman need to "eat for two" is a
myth thought to have contributed to high rates of excessive
A study involving three countries has found that 62 per cent
of Auckland women put on excessive weight in their first
pregnancy. The rate was 67 per cent in Adelaide, 80 per cent
in Cork, Ireland, and 74 per cent across the three cities.
Compared with the 17 per cent of women in the study who had
normal weight gain, the excessive weight gain group had an
increased rate of caesarean births and a far higher rate of
babies born large.
Excessive weight gain in pregnancy can also increase the risk
of developing pregnancy-related diabetes, high blood pressure
and the potentially fatal disorder pre-eclampsia.
Pregnancy-related diabetes - which resolves after the baby is
born - carries a 50 per cent chance of developing type 2
The kilos of pregnancy can be hard to shed after birth,
contributing to compounding weight problems after multiple
pregnancies - and big babies are themselves at ongoing risk
of being overweight.
One of the study's authors, Professor Lesley McCowan of the
University of Auckland, said other research in the Pacific
Island communities of Auckland indicated the need to "eat for
two" during pregnancy was a widely held belief.
In reality, only a little extra food was needed.
She highlighted Canterbury District Health Board guidelines
stating in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy no extra food is
required. After that, the necessary extra energy can be
obtained by eating just one slice of wholegrain bread or two
apples a day.
Pregnancy adds to a woman's body in many ways - in addition
to the fetus - such as a larger uterus and breasts, a
placenta, amniotic fluid, and more blood and fat.
A woman who is at a healthy weight for her height should put
on 11kg to 16kg while pregnant with a single baby. The
optimum gain is a little more for those who are underweight,
a little less for those overweight and less again for those
who are obese. However, the amounts vary depending on each
woman's weight and height, which should be discussed with her
midwife or doctor.
Professor McCowan said: "One of the things we were really
shocked about was 74 per cent of these so-called low-risk
women - in their first pregnancy - had an excessive weight
gain. It's a really worrying statistic."
The study's Auckland women were mainly Europeans so ethnic
comparisons weren't possible, but other data sources revealed
a vast divide. The Counties Manukau DHB found at the time
maternity care was booked, 61 per cent of Pacific women were
obese, in contrast to 38 per cent of Maori and 22 per cent in
the European/other category.
Professor McCowan is preparing South Auckland research on
culturally appropriate dietary interventions to help Pacific
women gain a healthy amount of weight in pregnancy.
By Martin Johnston, NZ Herald