Can being overweight affect your pregnancy?

Pregnant woman weighing on scale

Did you know that obesity can affect not only a woman’s ability to carry an infant to term but also could result in developmental problems for the baby? This is particularly concerning because obesity is on the rise in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nearly half of women who become pregnant are overweight or obese before becoming pregnant. The CDC defines obesity as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30.0 or higher; overweight is defined as BMI 25 – 30. For example, a 5’5” woman who weighs 185 pounds has a BMI of 30.8.

Dr. Terry Groff, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Banner Health Clinic in Brush, Colorado, notes that he and his colleagues are concerned about the obesity trend because of the health problems it can cause the mom and for the baby.

How being overweight affects pregnancy

A woman who is obese while pregnant faces the following:

  • A higher risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.
  •  A greater risk of gestational diabetes, which increases the chance of preterm labor, excessive birth weight for the baby, low blood sugar and type 2 diabetes for the mom later in life.
  • An increased risk of having to have a Cesarean section rather than a vaginal delivery.

Obesity during pregnancy can also affect her baby as well. They are at greater risk for developmental problems affecting the brain, heart, face and limbs.

And after delivery, the problems continue for both mom and baby. Retaining extra weight after delivery is common, which in turn could set the stage for morbid obesity. This can lead to metabolic syndrome, a constellation of conditions that put one at greater risk for heart problems and type 2 diabetes. The new mom could encounter other chronic health problems associated with being overweight as well. It has been noted that women who are overweight during pregnancy are less likely to breastfeed new babies for the recommended times.

Risks to the baby

Babies born to overweight mothers are possibly at risk for future health issues such as:

  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Asthma
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Developmental delays
  • ADD/ADHD.

Some of these concerns may have to do with nutritional and socioeconomic issues as well as mother’s weight during pregnancy.

Dr. Groff says that the best time to address healthy weight during pregnancy is before a woman becomes pregnant.

Women who plan to have a baby should consult with their provider about healthy weight, nutrition and exercise. Many women face limited access to a variety of affordable healthy foods. Others may not have access to places for daily physical exercise. A health care provider can help women to become more aware of the importance of healthy weight during pregnancy and recommend programs to access the right foods, including fruits and vegetables and exercise programs.

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