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A Weighty Issue

One of the earliest tip-offs to being pregnant with each of my three children -- besides rock-solid, sore boobs that sent lightning bolts through my chest if I attempted any movement beyond a slow saunter -- was how much I began eating. Suddenly I was starting the day with bacon, eggs, and toast, followed by a mid-morning muffin. And all this before the telltale missed period.

Apparently, I'm not alone: Our growing cultural tendency to eat more fast food, more junk, more empty processed calories, and just more in general -- even when it's a nutritious meal -- all while we sit in front of the TV or computer screen, means many women are either too heavy before pregnancy or gain too much during it. According to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost one-fourth of women 25 to 55 years of age are overweight, and another quarter are obese, which means half of all women may be entering pregnancy with preexisting weight problems. When they do become pregnant, 38 percent of normal-weight women and 68 percent of overweight women see the scale soar higher than the recommended guidelines for gestational weight gain, according to a study by researchers at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, and funded by the National Institutes of Health.

This trend presents a serious threat to babies. If a woman is overweight or obese during pregnancy, she's at greater risk of complications and birth defects that can compromise the health of her child. It has implications for her own health as well: In a recent Gallup survey, 78 percent of female ob-gyns cited obesity as the number one health threat to American women.

Knowing you'll never again put on a bathing suit without wincing may not be enough to make you pass on the dulce de leche, and worries about your future health may seem too far off to sweat right now, but surely the motivation to have a healthy baby can propel you toward better pregnancy nutrition. Here's the latest research about the importance of a healthy pregnancy weight gain -- and advice that can help you achieve it.