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Obesity During Pregnancy Puts Mothers and Children At Risk


A new three-year study reports that women who are obese during pregnancy put themselves and their children at risk for a variety of complications. Healthcare providers are urged to help educate women about the health hazards associated with obesity and pregnancy.

Obesity during pregnancy comes with many risks

The Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries (CMACE) released the results of its three-year study, which includes data collected from every maternity unit in the United Kingdom. According to the study, about 5 percent of pregnant women in the UK are severely obese, which is a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or greater.

A Kaiser Permanente report earlier this year on ABC News noted that more than 50 percent of women in the United States are overweight or obese at the time they get pregnant. Most of these women also gain more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy, according to Kaiser Permanente, which is 25 to 35 pounds for women who are of normal weight, and 11 to 20 pounds for obese women.

The CMACE study (Maternal Obesity in the UK: Findings from a National Project) found that the rate of stillbirths among severely obese women was twice that of the overall national rate, and that the risk of stillbirth increases as the mother’s weight increases.

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Severely obese pregnant women are also at greater risk of developing venous thromboembolism (VTE), a potentially deadly condition. The study’s authors also found that less than 50 percent of women at moderate to high risk for this condition are offered any preventive treatment during pregnancy, and that women who do receive treatment are prescribed doses that are inadequate for their body weight. Post delivery treatment of VTE was also poor, with only 55 percent of women needing treatment actually receiving it.

Severely obese pregnant women were found to be more likely to have gestational diabetes and pregnancy-induced hypertension (8-9% of women) compared with women in the general pregnant population (2-2.5%). The rate of cesarean section for singleton births also was 1.5 times greater among severely obese women than those in the general maternity population. In addition, the risk of postpartum hemorrhage within 24 hours of delivery was at least four times greater among severely obese women.

In other studies, researchers have found that maternal obesity may also be linked to health problems in their children. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology reported on the possibility of heart defects in children. Maternal obesity has also been associated with a greater risk for childhood high blood pressure and a higher rate of premature births.

Although this study was conducted in the United Kingdom, the findings can be applied to severely obese pregnant women everywhere. The CMACE developed ten key recommendations based on its findings, including a call for better preconception care and information for overweight and obese women, pre-pregnancy counseling, and support to lose weight before conception and during the postnatal period, among other guidelines. These and other steps may help protect the health of severely obese pregnant women and their children.

ABC News
Centre for Maternal & Child Enquiries