Pregnancy Risk Factors: Maternal Weight and Obesity

How being overweight can affect your pregnancy and child

Finding out you’re going to have a baby often makes parents more focused on their health and the health of the coming child. If you are overweight or obese, the additional weight can have a significant impact on your health during pregnancy and the course of labor and birth. Your pregnancy care doctor will calculate your “body mass index” (BMI) to determine if you fall into the overweight or obese range.

Fortunately, you can take a number of steps to ensure the health of you and your baby during pregnancy and birth with the help of your doctor and a few helpful tips.

What are pregnancy risk factors?

The physical changes and stresses of pregnancy are known to pose a number of medical risks. These risks increase if you meet certain criteria. Age is one of those factors. Women over the age of 35 are at higher risk for pregnancy complications and birth defects.

Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart problems, kidney disorders and diabetes also put you at higher risk. Immune system disorders and depression may also put moms at greater risk during pregnancy.

Obesity and being overweight can increase risks during pregnancy and birth, as well. Regular medical care is one of the best ways you can ensure a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby, even if you have risk factors that could cause problems during your term.

Obesity and pregnancy

Obesity poses health risks in general, but this is doubly true during pregnancy. The increase in blood volume, pressure on internal organs and stress on the heart muscle can lead to increased medical issues as gestation continues. Sleep apnea and blood sugar increases can occur.

In addition, the layers of fatty tissue make monitoring the baby more difficult, which can cause potential problems to be missed. Additionally, important surgical procedures needed during labor and birth can be made more difficult with increased body mass. Your doctor may opt for a more cautious approach to your pregnancy, with additional monitoring and testing to ensure a successful outcome.

Obesity and pregnancy complications

The risk for miscarriage and premature birth is higher in mothers with high body weight. High blood pressure also commonly occurs in obese and overweight moms. This can lead to a condition called preeclampsia, which may cause damage to the kidneys and liver. Gestational diabetes is also more common in pregnancies where moms are obese or overweight.

Maternal obesity can also result in premature labor, high birth weight in the baby, fetal respiratory distress and stillbirth. In addition, cardiac dysfunction is possible and Cesarean (C) section birth may be necessary for obese patients.

Overweight labor and delivery

Labor and delivery can be more hazardous to both the woman and the child when the mother is overweight or obese, for a number of reasons. For instance, fetal monitoring can be less precise and unexpected health issues can arise suddenly. Babies of obese women are also commonly larger than average, which can make labor and delivery more difficult.

Obesity in pregnancy guidelines

Because obesity poses certain additional risks during pregnancy, you should follow these recommended guidelines if you start your pregnancy carrying extra weight:

  • Before getting pregnant, talk to your doctor about a plan to ensure a healthy pregnancy for you and your baby.

  • Learn about the problems of obesity and pregnancy, and be aware of the symptoms that could indicate a problem that should be brought to your doctor’s attention.

  • Eat a healthy diet during your pregnancy. You shouldn’t try to diet when you are pregnant, because you could cause a deficiency in important nutrients needed for your baby’s development. Instead, choose healthy foods, concentrating on fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, poultry, whole-grain breads and pastas and healthy oils like canola and olive oil. Drink plenty of water and eat high-fiber foods that fill you up and make you eat less.

  • Exercise on a regular basis to the level you are comfortable. Walking, swimming and pregnancy yoga are good choices. Exercise helps to improve circulation and heart function, as well as keep muscles and joints strong during your pregnancy. Regular exercise will also improve sleep, which is often a problem during the latter months of pregnancy.

  • Keep your doctor’s appointments. See your doctor as scheduled and discuss any concerns you may have. Let them know of any symptoms or changing health conditions.

  • Talk to your doctor about a safe amount of weight to gain during pregnancy. You may wish to meet with a dietician about the best diet to avoid gaining excessive weight during pregnancy.

Women who are overweight or obese can take additional, proactive steps to guard their health during pregnancy and address any symptoms or concerns to their attending physician. With good care and consistent health maintenance measures, you can enjoy a safe and healthy pregnancy—and a beautiful, healthy baby.

At All About Women, we’re here to answer all your questions about risk factors. It’s our job to monitor you and help you have a safe pregnancy and delivery, and we handle most high-risk pregnancies.

Contact us today to schedule your first appointment.