Advances in assessing body composition during pregnancy


The prevalence of excess gestational weight gain is increasing worldwide and is associated with pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes mellitus, pre-eclampsia, preterm birth, macrosomia, and development of obesity in offspring. Whereas gestational weight gain positively correlates with the gain in fat mass (FM), fat-free mass (FFM) gain is relatively consistent across pregnancies. Commonly used methods to assess body composition include anthropometry, densitometry (air displacement plethysmography, underwater weighing), and hydrometry (isotope dilution, bioimpedance analysis). While these techniques can be applied to pregnancy, they require specific adjustments to assumptions inherent within each method, most importantly to accommodate for the hydration of FFM which is transient throughout gestation. Here we discuss the application of the abovementioned methods to pregnant women and the relevant adjustments needed to more accurately calculate FM based on body weight, body volume, or total body water. We also present a novel application of classical data to provide FFM density estimates for pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy. Use of these adjustments will help standardize assumptions on FFM hydration and minimize error in FM estimation. Techniques still fail, however, to fully distinguish tissue gains between mother and fetus. To fill this important gap, imaging techniques such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging are being used more frequently and will provide more insight into fetal development, fetal adiposity, and depot specificity of maternal FM acquisition. Efforts to synchronize protocols are necessary to allow seamless comparison of data to advance the understanding of maternal body composition changes that contribute to pregnancy-related complications.

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This work is supported by National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (U01DK094418, R01DK099175).

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JM drafted the manuscript. KLM and LMR critically reviewed and revised the paper, and all authors read and approved the final version of the submitted and published version.

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Correspondence to Leanne Maree Redman.

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Most, J., Marlatt, K.L., Altazan, A.D. et al. Advances in assessing body composition during pregnancy. Eur J Clin Nutr 72, 645–656 (2018).

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