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Dieting Before Pregnancy More Harmful for Obese Mothers

Update Date: Aug 30, 2013 11:08 AM EDT

Being obese during pregnancy can negatively affect the health of the mother and baby. Obese pregnant women are more likely to suffer problems like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, infection and labor problems. While there is never a bad time to lose unhealthy weight, a new study reveals that dieting just before conception may not be enough to prevent health risks associated with obesity during pregnancy.

Not only is dieting before getting pregnancy not enough to prevent diabetes risk, researchers found that it could actually present new risks as well. Researchers explain that the epigenetic damage associated with obesity might have already been done, even if women lose the weight just before conception.

"The findings of our study highlight that the nutritional health of the mother in the lead-up to and around conception can result in poor metabolic consequences for the offspring that will persist into later life," Caroline McMillen, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Sansom Institute for Health Research at the University of South Australia, said in a news release.

"We hope that the findings of the present study will lead to a focus on how to help obese women lose weight in order to improve their fertility in a manner which does not impact negatively on the health outcomes of their offspring," McMillen added.

In the study, researchers examined the embryos conceived in four groups of female sheep.  The first group was over-nourished from four months before conception, until one week after conception.  The second group was over-nourished for three months and then placed on a diet for one month before and one week after conception.  The third group of sheep was placed on a normal or control diet from four months before conception, until one week after conception.  The fourth group was fed a control diet for three months and was then put on a diet for one month before conception, until one week after conception.

One week after conception, embryos from all of these sheep were transferred to normal weight, normally nourished sheep for the remainder of pregnancy. Researchers also took liver samples from the lambs born to these ewes at four months of age to examine their genes and proteins.

"This discovery helps us to understand how body weight affects our health and the health of our children-right down to the genetic level," Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal, said in a statement. "Clearly this effect in must be confirmed in humans, but the study should help us to optimize a hopeful mom's management of how and when to lose weight to have a healthy child."

Researchers said the latest findings could help health care providers and public health officials develop better prenatal strategies to increase the health of newborn children.

The findings are published in The FASEB Journal

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