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Midwife gets grant to study postnatal weight control

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A UK midwifery academic has been given funding to study whether a weight management intervention based on “slimming groups” is effective in helping women lose weight after giving birth.

A grant worth £380,000 has been awarded to Debra Bick, professor of evidence based midwifery practice at King’s College London by the National Institute for Health Research.

The two-year study will investigate if women, who are overweight when they become pregnant – or gain more weight than they need to during pregnancy – could be supported to lose weight after giving birth.

It will be the first study to consider a specific postnatal intervention.

“The early weeks and months following birth may be a better time to offer women access to interventions to help them to manage their weight than during pregnancy”

Debra Bick

The team led by Professor Bick will include staff from St Georges’ University of London, Nottingham University, Lambeth and Southwark Public Health and the National Childbirth Trust.

The team are also collaborating with researchers from weight-loss organisation Slimming World, which offer tailored advice for individuals within a supportive group setting.

Currently, around 40% of UK women are overweight when they become pregnant, making them more likely to experience problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure, to have a caesarean section and be less likely to breastfeed.

They are also more likely to have ongoing weight problems, increasing the risk of poor outcomes in future pregnancies and of developing long-term health conditions such as heart disease.

Meanwhile, babies born to women who are overweight have an increased risk of being heavier at birth, having congenital birth defects, and becoming obese themselves.

The researchers noted that developing good quality postnatal advice on diet and lifestyle may be a more appropriate time to manage weight than trying to intervene during pregnancy.

However, they said it was still unclear how or when to engage women after they have given birth and how best to support them to manage their weight.

“This funding will enable us to collect a range of important data, including views of women, to make a decision about a future study”

Debra Bick

The researchers will study if an offer to attend a Slimming World group up to four months after birth, combined with good quality information on healthy lifestyles, is taken up. And, if so, to learn the “ideal” postnatal point in time for starting weight management.

The findings will help determine if running a future larger scale study is likely to succeed.

Professor Debra Bick said: “The early weeks and months following birth may be a better time to offer women access to interventions to help them to manage their weight than interventions during pregnancy. 

“As many of these women may have had more difficult pregnancies, decisions about when to commence health behaviour change should be at a time when the woman chooses and feels ready,” she said.

King's College London

Debra Bick

“The views of women who advised on our study development was that flexible timing of access to local non-NHS weight management groups such as those provided by Slimming World… would be viewed positively by postnatal women,” she added. 

“However, we need to know if it would be possible to do a much larger study in the future to assess the effectiveness of this,” said Professor Bick. “This funding will enable us to collect a range of important data, including views of women, to make a decision about a future study.” 

In December, researchers will start recruiting women at 36 weeks of pregnancy from a maternity unit in South London.

As well as collating data on the uptake and attendance at Slimming World groups, data on weight management, diet, lifestyle, and infant feeding outcomes will also be collected.

In addition, some women will be asked to take part in interviews with the research team to explore their views of weight management after having a baby. The results will be available in 2018.

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