Obesity is defined as having an excessive amount of body fat. A formula based on height and weight — called the body mass index (BMI) — is often used to determine if a person is obese. Maternal Obesity however refers to obesity (often including being overweight) of a woman during pregnancy.
Obesity during pregnancy increases the risk of a number of obstetric complications for both mother and child and is associated with significant maternal mortality and morbidity including increased risk of maternal death, pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes mellitus. For the offspring of obese mothers, there is a higher incidence of foetal distress, stillbirth and neonatal death.
Obese women are more likely to give birth to large for gestational age (LGA) babies, potentially increasing the risk of complications during delivery. In addition to these short-term risks, there is now evidence that maternal obesity may have longer-term influences on offspring health such as;
- Macrosomia: Women who are obese are at increased risk of delivering an infant who is significantly larger than average (macrosomia) and has more body fat than normal. Research suggests that as birth weight increases, so does the risk of childhood obesity.
- Chronic conditions: Being obese during pregnancy might increase the risk that your baby will develop heart disease or diabetes as an adult.
- Birth defects: Research suggests that obesity during pregnancy slightly increases the risk of having a baby who’s born with a birth defect.
If you started off your pregnancy carrying too much weight for your height, you’re far from alone. More than half of pregnant women are overweight or obese. You’re considered overweight if your pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) is between 25 and 29.9. (Your BMI reflects the relationship between your height and weight, and is an estimate of body fat.) You’re considered obese if your BMI is 30 or greater.
Not sure what your BMI is? Try this BMI calculator.
Your pre-pregnancy weight and BMI, as well as your health and your baby’s health, all play a role in determining how much weight you need to gain during pregnancy. Work with your health care provider to determine what’s best in your case and to manage your weight throughout pregnancy.
You can limit the impact of obesity on your pregnancy and ensure your health and your baby’s health. For example:
- Schedule a preconception appointment. If you’re obese and you’re considering getting pregnant, talk to your health care provider. He or she might recommend a daily prenatal vitamin and refer you to other health care providers — such as a registered dietitian or an obesity specialist — who can help you reach a healthy weight before pregnancy.
- Seek regular prenatal care. Prenatal visits can help your health care provider monitor your health and your baby’s health. Tell your health care provider about any medical conditions you might have — such as diabetes, high blood pressure or sleep apnea — and discuss what you can do to manage them.
- Eat a healthy diet. Work with your health care provider or a registered dietitian to maintain a healthy diet and avoid excessive weight gain. Keep in mind that during pregnancy, you’ll need more folic acid, calcium, iron and other essential nutrients. A daily prenatal vitamin can help fill any gaps. Consult your health care provider if you have special nutritional needs due to a health condition, such as diabetes.
- Be physically active. Consult your health care provider about safe ways to stay physically active during your pregnancy.
- Avoid risky substances. If you smoke, ask your health care provider to help you quit. Alcohol and illicit drugs are off-limits, too. Get your health care provider’s OK before you start — or stop — taking any medications or supplements.
Obesity during pregnancy can increase the risk of complications for you and your baby. To ease your anxiety, work closely with your health care provider. He or she can help you avoid excessive weight gain, manage any medical conditions, and monitor your baby’s growth and development.