Overweight and pregnant
Being overweight when you're pregnant increases the chance of some complications such as gestational diabetes. Make sure you go to all your antenatal appointments so your pregnancy team can monitor the health of you and your baby.
Your weight before you get pregnant
Before you get pregnant, you can use the body mass index (BMI) healthy weight calculator to work out if you are overweight. Your BMI is a measurement based on your weight to height. However, once you're pregnant, this measurement may not be accurate.
A BMI of 25 to 29.9 means you're overweight, and a BMI of 30 or above means you're very overweight, or obese.
If you are overweight, the best way to protect your health and your baby's wellbeing is to lose weight before you become pregnant. By reaching a healthy weight, you increase your chances of conceiving naturally and reduce the chance of problems associated with being overweight in pregnancy.
Contact your GP for advice on how to lose weight. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a specialist weight-loss clinic. Find out more about losing weight before you become pregnant.
If you get pregnant before losing weight, try not to worry – most women who are overweight have a straightforward pregnancy and birth and have healthy babies. However, being overweight does increase the chance of complications for both you and your baby.
Your weight during pregnancy
If you are very overweight (usually defined as having a BMI of 30 or above) and pregnant, do not try to lose weight during your pregnancy, as this may not be safe. There is no evidence that losing weight while you're pregnant will reduce the chance of complications.
The best way to protect your health and your baby's health is to go to all your antenatal appointments so that the midwife, doctor and any other health professionals can keep an eye on you both. They can manage the problems that you might face due to your weight, and act to prevent – or deal with – any of them.
It's also important to eat a healthy, balanced diet and get some physical activity every day. You should be offered a referral to a dietitian or other health professional for personalised advice on healthy eating and how to be physically active during your pregnancy. Being physically active in pregnancy will not harm your baby.
Find out more about how to have a healthy diet while pregnant.
Eating and exercise
Eating healthily (including knowing what foods to avoid in pregnancy) and doing activities such as walking and swimming is good for all pregnant women.
If you were not active before pregnancy, it's a good idea to consult your midwife or doctor before starting a new exercise plan when you're pregnant.
If you start an aerobic exercise programme (such as swimming, walking, running or aerobics classes), tell the instructor that you're pregnant. Begin with no more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise, 3 times a week. Increase this gradually to daily 30-minute sessions.
Remember that exercise does not have to be strenuous to be beneficial. As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation as you exercise when pregnant. If you become breathless as you talk, you're probably exercising too strenuously.
Find out more about exercising while pregnant.
Your care in pregnancy
If you become pregnant before losing weight, you'll be tested for gestational diabetes.
You may also be referred to an anaesthetist to discuss issues such as pain relief in labour. You're more likely to need an epidural, because very overweight women are more likely to have an instrumental delivery (ventouse or forceps or caesarean section), and it can be difficult for the epidural to be given.
If you're overweight, discuss your birth options with your midwife or doctor. Ask if there are any particular safety concerns for you around giving birth at home or in a birthing pool.
You may be advised to give birth in a hospital where there's easy access to medical care if you need it.
Find out more about your options on where to give birth.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced guidelines on weight management before, during and after pregnancy. It has useful information for all pregnant women on achieving, and maintaining, a healthy weight.
Possible problems if you're overweight in pregnancy
Being overweight increases the chance of complications for pregnant women and their babies. The higher a woman's BMI, the higher the chance. The increasing chances are in relation to:
- miscarriage – the overall chance of miscarriage under 12 weeks is 1 in 5 (20%); if you have a BMI over 30, the chance is one in 4 (25%)
- gestational diabetes – if your BMI is 30 or above, you are 3 times more likely to develop gestational diabetes than women who have a BMI below 30
- high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia – if you have a BMI of 35 or above at the beginning of your pregnancy, your chance of pre-eclampsia is twice that of women who have a BMI below 25
- blood clots – all pregnant women have a higher chance of blood clots compared to women who are not pregnant, and if your BMI is 30 or above, the chance is increased further
- the baby's shoulder becoming "stuck" during labour (sometimes called shoulder dystocia)
- post-partum haemorrhage (heavier bleeding than normal after the birth)
- having a baby weighing more than 4kg (8lb 14oz) – the overall chance of this for women with a BMI of 20 to 30 is 7 in 100 (7%); if your BMI is above 30, your chance is doubled to 14 in 100 (14%)
Possible problems for your baby if you're overweight in pregnancy
Problems for your baby can include being born early (before 37 weeks), and an increased chance of stillbirth (from an overall chance of 1 in 200 in the UK to 1 in 100 if you have a BMI of 30 or above).
There is also a higher chance of your baby having a health condition, such as a neural tube defect like spina bifida. Overall, around 1 in 1,000 babies are born with a neural tube defect in the UK. If your BMI is over 40, the chance is 3 times higher than the risk for women with a BMI that's below 30.
These problems can also happen to any pregnant woman, whether she is overweight or not.
Bear in mind that although these chances are increased if your BMI is 30 or above, most women who are overweight will have a healthy baby.
You can find out more in a leaflet from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, "Being overweight in pregnancy and after birth".
Page last reviewed: 14 January 2017
Next review due: 14 January 2020