Risk of pregnancy complications is increased for obese mums

We’ve known for some time that pregnancy complications are more common (for mum and baby) if the mother is obese. And now a new one has come to light – having an overgrown baby.

Any mum will have difficulty giving birth to a baby too large for her. The usual remedy is a C-section, often as an emergency, which brings its own complications.

A study by the US National Institute of Health (NIH), is one of the clearest warnings yet that obesity has a direct impact on the development of a baby, which could lead to dire complications for it and the mother.

An atypically large infant (weighing more than 8lb 13oz at birth), increases the mother’s risk for having a C-section as well as the baby’s risk of bone fracture during delivery. Furthermore it leaves children at a greater risk of being obese themselves and developing heart disease later in life.

In 2014, approximately 50% of all pregnant women in the United States were overweight or obese leading to maternal “morbidity”. That figure in the UK was 20% of pregnant women in 2015, which is one in five.

Maternal morbidity is defined as unexpected complications of labour and delivery that lead to severe consequences to a woman’s health.

Complications include diabetes, high-blood pressure, massive blood loss and C-section. “Our results underscore the importance of attaining a healthy body weight before pregnancy,” said the study’s lead author, Cuilin Zhang, a researcher from NIH.

Researchers speculate that higher blood sugar levels could promote overgrowth of the babies of obese women.

Between 2003 and 2013 researchers analysed ultrasound scans taken throughout pregnancy of more than 2,800 pregnant women, of whom 443 were obese with no accompanying health conditions, such as diabetes, and more than 2,300 were of normal weight.

Women with a BMI ranging from 30 to 44.9 were classified as obese, while those with a BMI of 29.9 were considered non-obese.

Beginning in the 21st week of pregnancy, ultrasound scans revealed that in the foetuses of obese women, the femur (thigh bone) and humerus (upper arm bone) were longer – meaning bigger babies were produced as a result – than those of the foetuses of non-obese women.

The researchers theorise that because obese women are more likely to experience difficulty using insulin to lower their blood sugar, higher blood sugar levels could have promoted overgrowth of their babies.

It seems like a good idea to follow children born to obese women to track health issues they may face as they grow up.