A new study involving Irish scientists has highlighted the increased risks pregnant women face if they are obese.
According to the findings, global rates of maternal obesity are now at epidemic proportions and these women, along with their babies, face a range of health risks.
Maternal obesity refers to women who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more when they become pregnant. The prevalence of this among women aged 20-39 years is between 30 and 37% in Europe. Currently in Ireland, prevalence is estimated to be between 20 and 25%.
"Up to one in five pregnant women in Ireland suffer from obesity, a serious health problem that is not currently being adequately addressed and that can have significant implications for both them and their babies," commented one of the study's authors, Prof Cecily Begley, of Trinity College Dublin (TCD).
Potential problems for women who are obese during pregnancy include gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, depression and an increased risk of requiring a caesarean section or instrumental birth, i.e. the use of forceps or ventouse (vacuum).
For the baby, it can increase the risk of a premature birth, being larger than normal, congenital defects and perinatal death, i.e. the death of a baby in the weeks just before or after birth.
The study also found that obese women were less likely to attempt breastfeeding and if they did breastfeed, they were more likely to give up sooner than women of a healthy weight.
Furthermore, maternal obesity was found to be the most significant factor leading to obesity in children, and excessive weight gain during pregnancy led to long-term obesity for the women involved.
However, according to Prof Begley, it is important that women are not stigmatised because of their weight.
"We need to provide pre-conceptual health education through national subsidised programmes, to support and encourage women with a high BMI to lose weight before they conceive. The benefits for them and their babies can be significant," she said.
As part of this research, scientists at TCD, City University London and the University of Gothenberg assessed 22 systematic reviews involving 573 studies.
According to TCD, this has led to ‘an exhaustive and extensive review of the true risks associated with maternal obesity in terms of mother and baby outcomes, including physical and mental health'.
Commenting on the findings, Prof Michael Turner, Clinical Lead for the National Clinical Programme in Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Ireland, pointed out that the potential complications relating to this can lead to longer hospital stays and much greater costs.
"Given the high proportion of pregnant women with obesity, it is crucial to invest in weight loss support for these women to reduce the risks for mothers and babies," he added.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Obesity Reviews.
For more information on pregnancy, see our Pregnancy Clinic here
Discussions on this topic are now closed.