Obesity has been linked to many health problems in the general population. A team of researchers from the School of Nursing and Midwifery of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Gothenberg, and City University London conducted a study to determine the health risks of obese pregnant women, both for themselves and their babies. The study was recently published in the Obesity Reviews journal and sheds new light on this subject.
Obesity is a medical condition characterized by the accumulation of excess body fat, usually a result of the interplay between poor diet choices, sedentary lifestyle and genetic factors, affecting as much as 37% of young women aged 20 to 39 years. Obese patients are diagnosed using the calculation of the body mass index (BMI) and are at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, osteoarthritis and some types of cancer.
Professor Cecily Begley, senior author of the study, and her team searched through the available medical evidence for all studies reviewing the comparison of pregnant women with normal weight to those obese in terms of health outcomes for the mother and/or her baby. Obese pregnant women — as defined by a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or over — had a higher risk of adverse outcomes during pregnancy, delivery and the post-natal period.
Gestational diabetes, high blood-pressure, pre-eclampsia, depression, forceps, vacuum and caesarean birth, and surgical site infection are more likely to occur in pregnant women with obesity compared to women of healthy weight (BMI between 18,5 and 25 kg/m2). There was also a link found between pre-term birth, large-for-gestational-age babies, fetal defects, congenital anomalies, and perinatal death. After delivery, obese pregnant women will initiate breastfeeding less often and have a higher risk of early breastfeeding cessation.
Regarding long-term outcomes, obese pregnant women are at higher risk of staying obese throughout their life and their offspring has higher risk of childhood obesity.
In the paper, authors recommend obese women to lose weight before conceiving to avoid these health risks. Nevertheless, they also point out that currently, the support for these women is sparse. To that end, the emergence of programs of pre-conceptual health education can help improve the impact of obesity in pregnancy.