Extra weight gain in pregnancy can impair breast feeding

April 10, 2001 in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding, Weight Management

Extra weight gain in pregnancy can impair breast feeding

Women of normal weight who gain more than 35 pounds during pregnancy may face difficulties when they begin breast-feeding, according to a study of almost 2,500 women. Researchers from Cornell University said that for women who are overweight before they become pregnant, gaining even less weight during pregnancy could make breast-feeding difficult.

The study found that almost half of the women who began pregnancy at a normal weight gained too much weight during pregnancy. Excess weight gain made the women 74% more likely to be unsuccessful when attempting to breast-feed. The researchers used recommendations from the Institute of Medicine to calculate acceptable pregnancy weight gain: women of normal weight should gain 24 to 35 pounds, while obese women should gain less than 24 pounds.

There are several possible explanations for the association between weight gain and breast-feeding difficulty. The areola or area surrounding the nipple is often much larger when a woman is obese. That is the area that is put in the infant's mouth and when it is large it may be more difficult for the infant to compress adequately to get a good milk supply. Additionally, an obese woman may have difficulty finding a comfortable position for nursing, or psychosocial factors may make it uncomfortable for her to continue breast-feeding.

Another may have to do with progesterone production in the body. Normal weight women get progesterone from the placenta, she said. After delivery that source is gone, which signals the body to start producing milk. But fat is also a source for progesterone, so obese women continue to produce progesterone after the placenta is removed. It may take these women longer to develop a milk supply.

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