New weight gain guidelines established for pregnant women

May 29, 2009
Dr. Siega-Riz

Dr. Siega-Riz

New guidelines for how much weight a woman should gain during pregnancy have been established by a national team of physicians and health care professionals, including University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health epidemiology and nutrition associate professor, Anna Maria Siega-Riz, PhD.

Siega-Riz was one of four team members who presented the new guidelines at a news conference May 28 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“This work has important implications for the lives of women given that in any one year approximately 4 million women give birth,” Siega-Riz said.

The team, established by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, recommends new pregnancy weight gain guidelines for American women that aim to balance the benefits and risks associated with pregnancy weight change. Their report, issued May 29, 2009, calls for increased diet and exercise counseling and programs to help women attain a normal body mass index (BMI).

The new guidelines update recommendations the Institute of Medicine made in 1990 and reflect changing U.S. demographics, particularly the surge in the number of Americans who are overweight or obese. Healthy American women at a normal weight for their height should gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy, the guidelines state. Underweight women should gain more, 28 to 40 pounds, and overweight women should gain less, 15 to 25 pounds. These ranges match the 1990 guidelines, but the report also specifies a new range for obese women (BMI greater than 30) that limits their gain to 11 to 20 pounds.

BMI is based on a person’s weight and height; for example, a 5-foot-6-inch woman weighing between 115 and 154 pounds has a normal BMI. Individuals can determine their BMI using an online calculator.

Studies consistently show that gaining within the guidelines lowers health risks for mothers and children, though this does not mean that every woman who exceeds or falls short of the guidelines – or that the babies born to these women – will have problems.

“This report gives women and their health care providers an evidence-based answer to the question of how much weight women should gain during pregnancy,” said Kathleen M. Rasmussen, professor of nutrition, division of nutritional sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “We call on health professionals to adopt these guidelines and help women follow them so that mothers and their children will have the best health outcomes possible.”

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Health Resources Services Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Child Health and Development, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and Division of Nutrition Research Coordination), HHS Office of Women’s Health, and the HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; and the March of Dimes.

Additional support was provided by the HHS Office of Minority Health (National Minority AIDS Council). The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

About Anna Maria Siega-Riz:

Siega-Riz’s research and service in the area of maternal and child health is widely respected.

In 2007, she received the March of Dimes’ Agnes Higgins Award, which recognizes distinguished achievement in research, education or clinical services in the field of maternal-fetal nutrition. Her invited lecture at the national event was titled, “Maternal Obesity: The Number One Problem Facing Prenatal Care Providers in the New Millennium.”

Her work has been quoted or referenced in Newsweek, The New York Times, and FitPregnancy and Parenting magazines.

She is co-principal investigator, along with others at UNC-Chapel Hill, including Andy Olshan, PhD, and Barbara Entwisle, PhD, on a grant funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and coordinated by the N.C. Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, which contributes data to the National Birth Defects Prevention Study.

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For more information, see

Copies of Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Reexamining the Guidelines are available from the National Academies Press at 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242, or online at

Additional information on the report is available at

A podcast of the public briefing held to release this report is available at

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or

Committee to Reexamine IOM Pregnancy Weight Guidelines

  • Kathleen M. Rasmussen, ScD (Chair)
    Division of Nutritional Sciences
    Cornell University
    Ithaca, N.Y.
  • Barbara Abrams, DrPH, RD
    Professor of Epidemiology, Maternal and Child Health, and Public Health Nutrition
    School of Public Health
    University of California
  • Lisa M. Bodnar, PhD, MPH, RD
    Assistant Professor
    Department of Epidemiology
    Graduate School of Public Health
    University of Pittsburgh
  • Claude Bouchard, PhD
    Executive Director, and
    George A. Bray Chair in Nutrition
    Pennington Biomedical Research Center
    Baton Rouge, La.
  • Nancy F. Butte, PhD
    Professor of Pediatrics
    Children’s Nutrition Research Center
    Baylor College of Medicine
  • Patrick M. Catalano, MD, FACOG
    Department of Reproductive Biology
    MetroHealth Medical Center
    Case Western Reserve University
  • Matthew Gillman, MD, SM
    Associate Professor
    Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention
    Harvard Pilgrim Health Care
    Harvard Medical School
  • Fernando A. Guerra, MD, MPH*
    Director of Health
    San Antonio Metropolitan Health District
    San Antonio, Texas
  • Paula Johnson, MD, MPH
    Executive Director
    Connors Center for Women’s Health
    Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  • Michael C. Lu, MD, MPH, MS
    Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology
    School of Medicine
    University of California
    Los Angeles
  • Elizabeth R. McAnarney, MD*
    Professor and Chair Emerita
    Department of Pediatrics
    School of Medicine and Dentistry
    University of Rochester
    Rochester, N.Y.
  • Rafael Perez-Escamilla, PhD
    Professor of Nutritional Sciences, and
    Center for Eliminating Health Disparities
    University of Connecticut
    Storrs, Conn.
  • David A. Savitz, PhD *
    Charles W. Bluhdorn Professor of Community and Preventive Medicine, and
    Director of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Disease Prevention
    Mount Sinai School of Medicine
    New York City
  • Anna Maria Siega-Riz, PhD
    Associate Professor
    Department of Maternal and Child Health
    Gillings School of Global Public Health
    University of North Carolina
    Chapel Hill

* Member, Institute of Medicine