Obesity and Pregnancy

A person is considered obese when their body mass index (BMI) is equal to or greater than 30. For people who become pregnant, obesity can increase the risk of many health conditions and complications. You can still have a healthy pregnancy if you are obese. There are things you should do to control the risks to you and your baby.

Path to better well-being

Many people who suffer from obesity have healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies. However, there are risks for both you and your baby, including:

  • Gestational diabetes. This type of diabetes only develops during pregnancy.
  • Infection. This may include urinary tract and postpartum infections.
  • Preeclampsia. This condition can cause high blood pressure and damage to organs, such as the kidneys.

You may also be at higher risk for problems during labor and delivery, such as:

  • Caesarean section. Obesity during pregnancy can lead to more elective and emergency cesarean sections.
  • Work problems. You are more likely to need labor induced if you are obese. Obesity can also interfere with the use of certain types of pain relievers. This may include epidural blocks.
  • delayed pregnancy. Obesity increases the risk of pregnancy continuing beyond the expected delivery date.
  • Pregnancy loss. Obesity may increase the risk of miscarriage.

There is also an increased risk of health problems for your baby when you are obese during pregnancy. These can include birth defects and chronic illnesses. Your baby may have a higher risk of developing diabetes or heart disease later in life.

It is important to take steps to monitor your health and that of your baby. If you are obese and are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, be sure to:

  • Schedule a preconception appointment. Talk to your doctor if you are obese and plan to become pregnant. You may be told to start taking prenatal vitamins. They can also work with you on a plan to reach a healthy weight before you get pregnant.
  • Receive regular prenatal care. See your doctor regularly to monitor for complications. Discuss any medical conditions you may have and ways to manage them during pregnancy.
  • Carefully monitor your weight. Ask what healthy weight gain during pregnancy would be.
  • Focus on eat a healthy diet and incorporate physical activity into your day. During pregnancy, you will need more calcium, folic acid, iron and other essential nutrients. A daily prenatal vitamin can help fill any gaps.
  • Discuss special labor and delivery needs. with your doctor before giving birth.

Things to consider

If you are obese, your doctor will closely monitor your pregnancy. They could recommend:

  • Early testing for gestational diabetes. Women at average risk for gestational diabetes usually have a screening test called a glucose challenge test between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. If you are obese, your doctor may recommend screening earlier.
  • Delayed fetal ultrasound. Fetal ultrasound evaluates the growth and development of the baby. It is generally performed between weeks 18 and 20 of pregnancy. Ultrasonic waves do not easily penetrate abdominal adipose tissue. This means that obesity during pregnancy can interfere with the effectiveness of a fetal ultrasound. Ultrasound results may be more detailed if the test is done a few weeks later.
  • Fetal echocardiography. Your doctor may recommend a fetal ultrasound that provides a detailed picture of your baby’s heart (called fetal echocardiography) between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. This test is used to detect a congenital heart defect.
  • Frequent prenatal visits. Your doctor may recommend more frequent prenatal visits than usual. This will help them monitor their health and that of their baby.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What are some ways I can control my weight gain during pregnancy?
  • What are the health benefits of losing weight before getting pregnant?
  • Am I at risk for any complications after giving birth?

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Pregnancy Complications

ChooseMyPlate.gov: Moms – Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

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