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Is it true that being underweight may have a possible risk to childbirth?

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Q/ Dear Doctor, I have always been told that I am too small and underweight. Is it true that being underweight may have a possible risk to childbirth? How do I gain weight in a healthy way? Edwinah.

Dear Edwinah,

Being underweight can represent as many health concerns to an individual as being overweight can. If a person is underweight, their body may not be getting the nutrients it needs to build healthy bones, skin, and hair.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend people use a body mass index (BMI) to calculate if they are underweight, at a healthy weight, or overweight.

Using the BMI is considered a good measure of a person’s weight because it compares their weight to their height.

A person can calculate their BMI by visiting the CDC’s adult BMI calculator. Ranges for BMI include:

  • Underweight: less than 18.5
  • Normal/healthy weight: 18.5 to 24.9
  • Overweight: 25.0 to 29.9
  • Obese: 30 or higher

Being underweight can have a negative impact on a person’s fertility. Data shows that women who have a BMI of 18.5 or less are twice as likely to take a year or more to become pregnant.

The primary way that being underweight compromises a woman’s fertility is by creating an imbalance in hormones that play a role in ovulation.

Underweight women are more likely to miss periods or have an irregular menstrual cycle, both of which make it much more difficult to conceive.

Some key components of a diet for weight gain may include:

  • Adding snacks. High-protein and whole-grain carbohydrate snacks can help a person gain weight. Examples include peanut butter crackers, protein bars, trail mix, pita chips and hummus, or a handful of almonds.
  • Eating several small meals a day. Sometimes a person may be underweight because they cannot tolerate eating large meals. Instead, a person can eat several small meals throughout the day.
  • Incorporating additional foods. A person can add calorie-dense food sources to their existing diet, such as putting slivered almonds on top of cereal or yogurt, sunflower or chia seeds on a salad or soup, or nut butter on whole-grain toast.
  • Avoiding empty calories. Eating high-calorie foods may cause a person to gain weight, but they also have excess fats that could affect a person’s heart and blood vessels. A person should avoid foods that are high in sugar and salt.

Answered by:
Dr Joseph Kafuuma, Women’s Hospital Internationaland Fertility Centre, Bukoto-Kampala. Send questions to the Drvia editor@goodnewskla.com.

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