In this body-conscious society, women often worry about weight gain when they become pregnant. Being overweight or having a body mass index (BMI) that is considered obese adds more concern – for the mother’s health and that of her baby.
Risk to mother
“There is an overall increased risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, and Caesarian section at delivery,” said Dr. Kayla Ireland, an OB/GYN at University Hospital and assistant professor at UT Health San Antonio. “Labor can take longer during delivery.”
There are steps women can take to reduce those risks and have a healthier pregnancy, starting with preparing for pregnancy.
“It’s best to become as healthy as they can before pregnancy,” Dr. Ireland said.
But obesity is on the rise in the United States and other developed countries. Dr. Ireland said she’s seeing more such cases in San Antonio, where the adult obesity rate is 32%, according to a 2018 SA2020 report.
When a pregnant woman has a BMI of 30 or greater, that is considered an obesity pregnancy, Dr. Ireland said. At that point, the woman will be checked for diabetes and her exercise rates and diet will be evaluated.
That does not mean mom will be put on a diet.
“We recommend less weight gain in an obesity pregnancy,” she said, “but we don’t want them to be on calorie restriction.”
Risk to baby
Children whose mothers were obese during pregnancy do have a higher risk of obesity themselves, along with a higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. They can have what is called fetal macrosomia, which means they are significantly larger than average. That can lead to more complicated deliveries and add to later health risks in life, so Dr. Ireland likes to keep a close eye on things.
“We may have more visits, maybe more ultrasounds to monitor the baby,” she said.
And, Dr. Ireland observed, having a baby often inspires a woman to do her best.
“Patients are typically really motivated to be the best that they can during the pregnancy.”