Pregnancy Weight Gain – Precautions when Searching Online

When it comes to weight gain in pregnancy, don’t believe everything you see online.

Pregnancy weight gain

When it comes to weight gain in pregnancy, don’t believe everything you see online.

A recent analysis of 181 webpages that included content on the subject of pregnancy and pounds found many provided either incomplete or inaccurate information. Two-thirds of the websites were from for-profit organizations, while the rest were from government agencies, medical associations and news organizations.

Excessive weight gain in pregnancy is associated with a variety of health problems, including gestational diabetes, babies who are too big, prolonged labor and cesarean delivery. But many women aren’t aware that the Institute of Medicine (since renamed the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine) issued more stringent guidelines in 2009 for weight gain in pregnancy, the authors of the study wrote.

The guidelines are based on women’s pre-pregnancy body mass index, or BMI. The higher your BMI before you become pregnant, the less weight you should gain during pregnancy, according to the guidelines. Women with a pre-pregnancy BMI of 18.5 to 24.9, considered normal weight, should gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy, the guidelines recommend. But obese women, with a BMI of 30 or more, should gain only 11 to 20 pounds.

Women gain the appropriate amount of weight in only about a third of U.S. pregnancies, however, according to the authors of the recent study. In nearly half of pregnancies, they gain too much, while in about a fifth they don’t gain enough (I know—hard to imagine).

That’s probably in part because few pregnant women receive appropriate counseling from their care provider about how much weight they should gain, the researchers wrote. “Clinicians may be unaware, unfamiliar, or unaccepting of the guidelines, or reluctant to discuss the sensitive topic of weight gain with their overweight or obese patients.”

Virtually every pregnant woman turns to the Internet for health information, studies have found. “In general, pregnant women consider online health information to be of reasonable quality and reliable, and information found online plays a significant role in women’s decision-making during pregnancy.”

But the majority of the 181 webpages analyzed in the study did not reflect the latest IOM guidelines, and for-profit websites, which dominated, were the most likely to be faulty.

It’s not like the webpages were telling women it was okay to gain 60 pounds during their pregnancy (even for underweight women with a BMI under 18.5, the Institute of Medicine guidelines recommend gaining no more than 40 pounds).

Most of the incorrect webpages were within a few pounds or one or two BMI points of the IOM recommendations. But some combined the recommendations for overweight and obese women, which, the researchers wrote, is concerning because obese women might be at the highest risk of complications from excessive weight gain during pregnancy.

The researchers concluded that the health-care professionals who care for pregnant women need to fill the knowledge gap. Nurses, nutritional counselors and social workers can help inform pregnant women about appropriate weight gain.

In addition, the authors wrote, accurate webpages, mainly academic and government websites, need to do a better job of ensuring they appear as a top result in Google searches.

If you’re curious, the top—as determined by how frequently they appeared during Google searches–accurate webpages were found on such websites as American Pregnancy, Mayo Clinic, BabyCenter, and March of Dimes (FYI, the study was conducted two years ago, before Pregistry was launched).

Rita Rubin
An ob-gyn's daughter and the mother of two teenage daughters, Rita Rubin has covered medicine ever since earning a BSJ from Northwestern. Based in Washington, D.C., Rita has written for WebMD, JAMA, POZ, and NBCNews.com and previously worked for USA TODAY. She has won numerous awards for her stories and authored What If I Have a C-Section? Rita earned an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins and spent a year as a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. You can follow her on Twitter @RitaRubin.

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