Obesity carries increased risks during pregnancy

4 June 2015

A new study has found that women who are obese during their pregnancy are exposed to a number of increased health risks both for them and for their unborn child.

This is according to the systematic review of research by academics at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin, the University of Gothenberg, and City University London.

Published in the journal Obesity Reviews, the paper suggests that women should lose weight before they become pregnant to avoid any increased risks. However, the report also highlights the lack of support for women who are overweight and want to become pregnant.

The researchers say that global rates of maternal obesity have reached epidemic proportion, with between 30 and 37 per cent of all women aged 20-39 years falling into this category across Europe.

Maternal obesity, which is judged by having a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or over when starting pregnancy, has been linked to a number of health risks for both mother and child. This is found during pregnancy, throughout the birth and in the child's early years.

Such problems can include gestational diabetes, high blood-pressure, pre-eclampsia, depression, and being at a higher risk of having a caesarean birth. These are all more likely to happen in women who are overweight while pregnant, compared to females with healthy BMIs.

Maternal obesity is also linked to greater risk of pre-term birth, large-for-gestational-age babies, fetal defects, congenital anomalies, and perinatal death. Furthermore, breastfeeding initiation rates also drop and there is a greater risk of early breastfeeding cessation in women with obesity. 

The team analysed 22 systematic reviews, which looked at a total of 573 research studies, to compare the risk of being pregnant when obese, compared to being at a healthy weight. They developed an exhaustive and extensive review of the true risks associated with maternal obesity in terms of mother and baby outcomes, including physical and mental health.

The study found that maternal obesity is also the most significant factor leading to childhood obesity and, when combined with excessive weight gain during pregnancy, results in long-term obesity for women.

Professor Cecily Begley, author on the study and chair of Nursing and Midwifery in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin, said that up to a fifth of pregnant women in Ireland are obese.

This, she said, is a serious health problem but is not being adequately addressed, putting mums and babies at risk.

"However, it is important not to stigmatise women because of their weight. We need to provide pre-conceptual health education, through national subsidised programmes, to support and encourage women with a high BMI to lose weight before they conceive. The benefits for them and their babies can be significant," she added.

Speaking about the study, Professor Michael Turner, clinical lead for the National Clinical Programme in Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Ireland,said: "The potential complications of obesity in pregnancy can lead to longer duration of hospital stay and greater costs. Given the high proportion of pregnant women with obesity, it is crucial to invest in weight loss support for these women, to reduce the risks for mothers and babies."

Posted by Edward Bartel

Health News is provided by Adfero in collaboration with Spire Healthcare. Please note that all copy above is ©Adfero Ltd. and does not reflect views or opinions of Spire Healthcare unless explicitly stated. Additional comments on the page from individual Spire consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other consultants or Spire Healthcare.

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