How Obesity Affects Pregnancy

May 9 • Pregnancy • 29901 Views • No Comments on How Obesity Affects Pregnancy

Between the years 1990 and 2013, the maternal death rate during childbirth decreased 45 percent across the globe according to the World’s Health Organization. However, the WHO also found that this trend is the opposite in the United States. It is estimated that 12 deaths occurred for every 100,000 pregnancies in 1990 and 28 deaths every 100,000 pregnancies in 2013; an increase of 136 percent. Doctors believe that the increase in maternal deaths is due to pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes and obesity. The United States has a high obesity rate, and the disease can cause several complications during pregnancy.

Major Pregnancy Complications Caused by Obesity


High blood pressure, or hypertension, that happens during pregnancy is called gestational hypertension. The condition develops about 20 weeks after pregnancy and requires a blood pressure of at least 140/90 for a diagnosis. Higher blood pressures earlier in pregnancy increase the risk for other problems like preeclampsia, a condition that involves protein in the urine, vision changes, or kidney or liver abnormalities in pregnant women. Gestational hypertension may cause placental abruption, still birth and other pregnancy complications. Women who are obese are more likely to develop gestational hypertension.


Diabetes induced by pregnancy is called gestational diabetes, and it is characterized by elevated blood sugar levels. Pregnancy causes higher blood sugar levels in all women due to hormonal changes, but usually the pancreas produces enough insulin to offset this effect. Gestational diabetes happens when the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin, and the condition increases the chance of miscarriage. High blood sugar levels also lead to excess growth of the baby that may cause problems during delivery. Women who are 20 percent or more overweight before pregnancy are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.

Birth Defects

Several studies, which compare the relationship between body mass index and pregnancy complications, show that women who are obese or overweight are more likely to have birth defects. Higher BMIs are positively correlated to stillbirth, fetal death and infant death. With a BMI of 30 considered obese, women with a BMI over 40 have the highest risk for birth defects. Even women with a BMI of 25, the point a person becomes overweight, have a higher risk of pregnancy complications. The connection between obesity and birth defects is influenced by the disease’s connection to other pregnancy complications such as gestational hypertension and gestational diabetes.

These are just a few pregnancy complications associated with obesity. Women who want to become pregnant should try to be in optimal health. Eating a nutritious diet, exercising for 30 minutes twice a week, getting enough sleep and drinking plenty of water have always been great ways to become healthy.

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