Healthy weight management before getting pregnant and appropriate weight gain during pregnancy significantly reduce the risk of infant death during the first year of life, a study from the journal Obesity reported.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), examined the impact of pre-pregnancy weight, obesity, and weight gain during pregnancy on infant mortality.

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Dr. Bodnar and her team examined records from more than 1.2 million births during 2003 to 2011 in Pennsylvania, including 5,530 infant deaths, defined as the death of an infant before his or her first birthday. Mothers were classified as underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese, which was divided into three grades, based on their pre-pregnancy body mass index. In each weight group, researchers also examined the impact on infant mortality when pregnant women gained significantly more or less weight than the Institute of Medicine guidelines.

The study found that gaining less than or much more than recommended increased the risk of infant death in all the weight classes except the most obese. However, even when obese women gained the optimal weight during pregnancy, their risk of infant death was still about twice as great as that of women who began pregnancy at a normal weight.

Lead author Lisa Bodnar, PhD, MPH, RD, associate professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology stated, “While more research needs to be conducted, we are hopeful that this study can be used to start a dialogue between physicians and women on the importance of not only gaining a healthy amount of weight while pregnant, but also reducing excess weight before they become pregnant as a potential way to improve infant survival.”

Co-author Katherine Himes, MD, assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology added, “Our study highlights the importance of discussing weight loss with obese women prior to pregnancy because losing weight during pregnancy may increase the risk of her baby dying. We hope this information empowers providers, including obstetricians, family doctors and primary care physicians, to discuss the benefits of preconception weight loss with all obese, reproductive-age women.”

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