TORONTO – New moms who are trying fit into their pre-baby wardrobe may have another reason to lose weight: a Canadian study is warning that weight gain within a year of giving birth could be tied to a new risk of diabetes or heart disease.
It’s not exactly what moms, who are juggling newborn babies and some turbulent times on the scale, may want to hear. But Mount Sinai Hospital scientists say that gaining weight during this critical time is only worsening maternal health.
Lead researcher, Dr. Ravi Retnakaran, suggests that his findings could help doctors dole out advice to new moms on what they can work on to improve their health. It also serves as an early warning sign.
“It’s long been hypothesized that the cumulative effect of the weight she carries forward from each pregnancy in her lifetime ultimately leads to a woman’s risk of developing diabetes and heart disease,” Retnakaran said.
In his research, published Tuesday morning in Diabetes Care, Retnakaran followed 305 moms throughout pregnancy and into the first year of motherhood. About 75 per cent of the women lost some of their baby weight within that first year – that group had maintained healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure among other tests.
But the remaining quarter of new moms gained weight that put them at a “clear” increased risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They had higher blood pressure, higher levels of LDL or bad cholesterol, an increased resistance to insulin and lower levels of a particular hormone linked with protecting against diabetes and heart disease.
The risk factors weren’t there within the first three months after giving birth, but a full year later, they were obvious.
“That means that the nine-month window leading up to one year after birth is a critical time for women to ensure that they are losing at least some of their pregnancy weight,” Retnakaran said.
Retnakaran couldn’t say how much women should be losing. In a typical pregnancy, women gain about 20 per cent of their body weight, he said. But a common trend in women who lost weight was that they were taking on physical activity, especially playing sports, that was outside of their daily tasks.
Retnakaran said that his research isn’t meant to discourage moms. In fact, it may even be a positive message and alleviate pressure to immediately go back to their pre-baby bodies.
“I would say that it’s good news because what we’re seeing is while a Hollywood starlet might be able to get back to her pre-pregnancy weight very quickly, the truth is in real life for most people that’s not practical. That’s not going to happen and we’ve shown that very clearly,” he said.
As long as women are on a weight-loss trajectory after the three-month mark, Retnakaran says they’re on the right track.
Mount Sinai says the study is the first to follow mothers’ weight patterns within the first year of giving birth and link them to health risk factors.
Its next steps are to follow these moms into their second and third years of motherhood.