What Are the Risks of Being Obese When Pregnant?

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1. The truth about obesity and pregnancy

Being overweight or obese during pregnancy can actually be harmful to a pregnant woman or her unborn baby. In a perfect world, all women who wish to get pregnant would be able to make sure that they are at a healthy and ideal weight before conceiving in order to minimize the risks.

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However, that is not always the case. Being obese is described as having a BMI of 30 or higher. If your BMI is 40 or higher, you are considered to be “extremely” or “morbidly” obese. A normal BMI is considered to be anywhere from 18.5-24.9. That is the range that women should strive to be in before becoming pregnant.

2. Pregnancy complications due to obesity

It might not seem like being overweight or obese would cause too many problems with pregnancy. Many women think “What’s the worst that will happen? I will gain weight and just be heavier than I am now. Then I will lose it all after the baby is born.”

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This is a dangerous way of thinking, since there are actually a variety of complications that can arise from being obese during pregnancy. For example, obese women are more likely to develop gestational diabetes than women who have a “normal” BMI. They are also more likely to develop preeclampsia, and urinary tract or kidney infections.

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Women who are obese during pregnancy are also more likely to develop a condition known as thrombosis, where a blood clot forms inside of a blood vessel. Also, Obstructive Sleep Apnea is more common in obese pregnant women. This is a potentially dangerous condition in which a person continuously stops and starts breathing during sleep.

3. Labor and delivery complications due to obesity

The risks to obese pregnant women do not stop when the pregnancy ends. There are also more risks during labor and delivery, and even risks to the baby once it is born as well.

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Obesity during pregnancy can cause pregnancy to go overdue, which can pose risks to both mother and baby in certain cases. Miscarriage and stillbirths are also more common in women who are obese during pregnancy.

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Obesity can also lead to problems with pain medication during labor. Cesarean sections, both elective and emergency are more common in obese women. Healing is also sometimes delayed in women who are obese and have a c-section, and obese women are more prone to infections after giving birth.

 4. What to know

If a woman is not currently pregnant, but wishes to become pregnant and is obese, she should start trying to exercise and lose weight before conceiving if possible. This will minimize the risks to both mother and baby.

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Obese pregnant women will also need to watch the amount of weight they gain during pregnancy. Women with a normal BMI usually gain between 25-35 pounds during pregnancy.

However, women who are obese should try to only gain between 11-20 pounds during pregnancy. Obese women might also need additional testing and their pregnancies might be considered high risk. Ask your doctor if you have any additional concerns or questions.

Dr. Karen Leham is double board-certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology and in Reproductive Endocronology and Infertility. Dr. Leham completed her residency at Loyola University, followed by a fellowship at UCLA.