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Losing the Pregnancy Weight Can Prevent Heart Disease and Diabetes

by Katlyn Joy | April 3, 2014 12:00 AM
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Researchers from Canada's Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto waved red flags regarding baby weight that remains in the first year following giving birth. While it's been established that retaining pregnancy weight years later elevates a woman's risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes, this study finds the risks begin as early as months following childbirth.

The study was published in the March 25 issue of the journal Diabetes Care. Researchers followed 305 pregnant women throughout pregnancy and through the first year postpartum. About half of the women were first time mothers, while another 5 percent already had given birth twice. The rest were in their second pregnancies. The women were tested at 3 and 12 months postpartum for cardiovascular and diabetes factors, checking things such as cholesterol levels, weight, blood pressure and similar measurements.

Of the women in the study, three-quarters lost at least some of the pregnancy weight by baby's first birthday. Those women's test results revealed healthy levels in the items tested.

However, one-fourth of the moms didn't lose their baby weight, and some even packed on more, and their test results were alarming. Their tests showed risk factors increased even beyond the marks they had at their 3 month postpartum tests. Already these women are setting themselves up for serious health problems such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

Lead researcher and endocrinologist, Dr. Ravi Retnakaran warns, "This finding helps us advise women about the importance of losing their excess pregnancy weight in the first year after delivery. With these results, we can say that failure to lose weight between three and 12 months postpartum will cause blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin action in the body to move in an unhealthy direction."

Dr. Retnakaran sees this study, the first to follow women in the first year after birth to look at risk factors for these diseases, as particularly ominous. The fact that the women who didn't lose weight saw elevated risks in the nine month window, between the 3 month tests and the year postpartum tests, means it's imperative to get women to adapt to a healthy lifestyle sooner rather than later after birth.

He hypothesizes that for women who continue to hold onto pregnancy weight, and gain more with each subsequent pregnancy, the risks only increase.

"The adverse consequences of retaining excess weight from your pregnancy may develop a lot earlier than we expected, within the first year," said Retnakaran. That means the nine month period between 3 months postpartum and the first year is critical for losing weight.

Women who had a more positive outlook from the study were women who were physically active following childbirth, especially women who were engaged in a sport. This means adopting a healthy active lifestyle can go a long way in preventing serious health problems later in life.

Many doctors may not be monitoring women closely postpartum for such factors, because they are generally healthy, young women. Their subtle changes may not set off alarms for medical professionals, unless those carrying extra pregnancy pounds while their children progress into toddlerhood are not having their test results compared to other young women who did drop the pounds.

The levels in young women at risk in whom these risk factors are going to be relevant to their potential, ultimate development of heart disease, those levels when they're 25, 26 are not going to be the kind of levels that are going to cause their physician to take notice. But you give them those levels compared to their peers and give them that exposure for 20 years and now you've got diabetes and heart disease."

For those pregnant or postpartum, this is a timely message. Take action today, while time is still on your side, to protect your health tomorrow.

Simple Steps to Lose Weight After Having a Baby

For more tips on how to lose the baby weight in the first year, read our article, "Postpartum Weight Loss: Lose The Baby Fat."


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