Obesity During Pregnancy
Most of us are now familiar with the health risks that obesity can cause. Even being slightly overweight can put you at risk for a number of serious illnesses, including arthritis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. But did you know that being obese during pregnancy can also put you and your child at risk for severe pregnancy and health-related complications? If you are suffering from obesity, find out about the possible pregnancy health risks you face and the steps that you can take to reduce your risk.
What is Obesity?
The term "obese" actually refers to anyone who is more than 30% over their ideal body weight. Obesity can be the result of many factors, including inactivity, poor diet, and certain health-related complications. How can you find out if you are obese? Well, health care providers now use a scale known as the Body Mass Index (BMI) to calculate weight-related risk. This index combines information about your height and body weight and compares them using a number ranging from 18 to 40. Depending upon your BMI, you can find out if you are at risk for obesity. BMI is usually indexed as follows:
- 18.5 to 25: This is the ideal weight range for most normal, healthy men and women.
- 25 to 29.9: If you fall into this BMI range, you may be overweight for your body height.
- 30 and over: If your BMI measures 30 or higher, you may be obese for your body height.
How Common is Obesity During Pregnancy?
Obesity is becoming a growing concern among both genders and all age groups. In 1962, 13% of the American population was classified as obese. By 1994, this number had increased to 23%. Yet, just six years later in 2000, this number had skyrocketed to over 30%. Today, an estimated two-thirds of Americans are considered overweight while one in three is obese. This means that almost 67 million Americans are obese. In fact, in America, being obese has officially become a marker for classifying a pregnancy as high risk.
Of particular concern for women of childbearing age are the effects that obesity can have on your reproductive health. Not only can obesity put you and your baby at risk for some serious health complications, but it can actually interfere with fertility. This is because fat stores change the levels of sex hormones that your body produces, making it increasingly difficult to become pregnant.
Complications For Mom
If you are obese during pregnancy, you are at risk of several serious health complications, including:
- Preeclampsia: Preeclampsia is a condition which causes high blood pressure, fluid retention, and swelling during pregnancy. When serious, preeclampsia can restrict placental blood flow, endangering baby.
- Gestational Diabetes: Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. It prevents your body from breaking down sugar and can put your baby at risk for gaining too much weight in utero.
- Cesarean Section: Women who are obese during pregnancy have an increased risk of experiencing problems during delivery. Labor is more likely to be slow and prolonged, increasing the likelihood of cesarean section.
- Postpartum Infection: Obesity during pregnancy also makes you more vulnerable to experiencing a difficult postpartum recovery. In particular, if you have had a c-section, you are at risk for developing dangerous postpartum infections.
Complications for Baby
If you are obese during your pregnancy, you baby is also at risk for developing some dangerous health issues.
- Macrosoma: Macrosoma is a condition in which your baby puts on too much weight during development. This can complicate labor and delivery, making it difficult for your baby to enter and exit the birth canal. Some large babies have their shoulders injured during birth. This is known as shoulder dystonia.
- Neural Tube Defects: Babies born to obese mothers are also at increased risk of suffering dangerous neural tube defects during development. Neural tube defects, like spina bifida and anencephaly, are often associated with low levels of folic acid during the first trimester. These defects can frequently be detected early in pregnancy through the use of ultrasound imaging. However, women who are obese often produce poor ultrasounds. Because the ultrasound waves have trouble penetrating extra layers of fat, blurry images are produced. As a result, neural tube defects arenï¿½t always detected in these babies.
- Childhood Obesity: Studies show that babies who are born to obese mothers are more likely to suffer from obesity by the time they reach the age of four. In one recent study, 29% of children born to obese mothers were also obese by the age of four, compared with only 9% of babies born to mothers of normal weight.
What Can You Do?
If you are suffering from obesity, there are a few steps that you can take to help reduce the health risks posed to you and your baby.
- Lose Weight Before Pregnancy: If you are planning on getting pregnant in the near future, get your weight evaluated by your health care provider. If you are obese, consider losing weight through proper diet and exercise. Even minimal weight loss can help to radically reduce your risk of pregnancy complications. Those that are severely obese may want to consider obesity surgery.
- Watch your Weight Gain: Even if you are obese, you should never try to lose weight during pregnancy. Weight loss or changes in diet can prevent your baby from getting the calories and nutrients she needs to grow properly. Instead, focus on gaining weight in moderation. Most obese women need to gain between 15 and 25 pounds, putting on the majority of the weight during the third trimester.
- Exercise: Exercise should be continued throughout your pregnancy. Talk with your health care provider about exercise levels that would be appropriate for you. Even if itï¿½s just walking around the block a few times, exercise can really help to reduce your risk of potential health complications.