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PLoS One. 2018 Oct 23;13(10):e0206035. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0206035. eCollection 2018.

Pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) and maternal gestational weight gain are positively associated with birth outcomes in rural Malawi.

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University of Tampere, Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences, Centre for Child Health Research, Tampere, Finland.
Tampere University Hospital, Department of Paediatrics, Tampere, Finland.
Department of Nutrition, University of California Davis, Davis, California, United States of America.
University of Malawi College of Medicine, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Blantyre, Malawi.



Whereas poor maternal nutritional status before and during pregnancy is widely associated with adverse birth outcomes, studies quantifying this association in low income countries are scarce. We examined whether maternal pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) and weight gain during pregnancy are associated with birth outcomes in rural Malawi.


We analyzed the associations between pre-pregnancy BMI and average weekly gestational weight gain (WWG) and birth outcomes [duration of gestation, birth weight, length-for-age z-score (LAZ), and head circumference-for-age z-score (HCZ)]. We also determined whether women with low or high pre-pregnancy BMI or women with inadequate or excessive WWG were at increased risk of adverse birth outcomes.


The analyses included 1287 women with a mean BMI of 21.8 kg/m2, of whom 5.9% were underweight (< 18.5 kg/m2), 10.9% were overweight (≥ 25 kg/m2), 71.8% had low WWG [below the lower limit of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendation], and 5.2% had high WWG (above IOM recommendation). In adjusted models, pre-pregnancy BMI was not associated with duration of pregnancy (p = 0.926), but was positively associated with birth weight and HCZ (<0.001 and p = 0.003, respectively). WWG was positively associated with duration of gestation (p = 0.031), birth weight (p<0.001), LAZ (p<0.001), and HCZ (p<0.001). Compared to normal weight women, underweight women were at increased risk of having stunted infants (p = 0.029). Women with low WWG were at increased risk of having infants with low birth weight (p = 0.006) and small head circumference (p = 0.024) compared to those with normal weight gain. Those with high BMI or high WWG were not at increased risk of adverse birth outcomes.


WWG is an important predictor of birth outcomes in rural Malawi. The high prevalence of inadequate WWG compared to low pre-pregnancy BMI highlights the need to investigate causes of inadequate weight gain in this region.

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