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Obesity Related Pregnancy Complications

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Overweight in Pregnancy Increases Complications

Learn about the complications of obesity in pregnancy.

Obesity is a growing epidemic in the United States. The CDC estimates that more than 72 million Americans are overweight, and one in five pregnant women are obese.

Because obesity during pregnancy can pose complications to women and their unborn babies, doctors recommend that you lose weight before attempting to conceive.

Obesity - related pregnancy complications include an increased risk of gestational diabetes, pregnancy - related hypertension, preterm birth, post - term pregnancy, twin pregnancy, urinary tract infection, and obstructive sleep apnea.

Gestational Diabetes - A type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. Obese pregnant women are at an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes, as compared to their non - obese counterparts. If not monitored closely, this diabetes can lead to miscarriage, birth defects, a larger sized baby, and the baby having blood sugar problems. Maintaining a healthy diet and gaining the recommended pregnancy weight (11 to 20 pounds for overweight women) can reduce your risk of gestational diabetes.

Pregnancy - related Hypertension - Obese women are also at higher risk of developing hypertension and preeclampsia during pregnancy. In some high - risk obese pregnant women, who have existing medical problems, including diabetes, chronic hypertension, and chronic kidney disease, low - dose aspirin therapy may help prevent the likelihood of developing preeclampsia. Aspirin therapy is not recommended for low risk obese women.

Preterm Birth - Pregnant women who are obese are at an increased risk of delivering early, primarily due to existing obesity - related pregnancy complications (such as hypertension and diabetes). Preventing these complications will help reduce the risk of preterm birth.

Post - term Pregnancy - Recent studies have estimated that obesity can increase your risk of having a post - term pregnancy (a pregnancy that lasts longer than the regular 40 weeks). Having a post - term pregnancy can increase your risk of stillbirths, larger babies, and fetal dysmaturity (babies whose growth has been restricted in the womb. These babies can have breathing problems and long - term neurological problems after birth). Post - term pregnancies can also make the labor and delivery process more difficult for the mom.

Twin Pregnancy - Obese pregnant women are at an increased risk of having fraternal twins. This phenomenon has been associated with heavier women excreting higher levels of the follicle - stimulating hormone (FSH), which is the hormone that stimulates your production of eggs. 

Urinary Tract Infection - Although urinary tract infections are common in all pregnant women, women who are overweight have a 42 percent increase risk of developing these infections. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea - This is a rare, but serious obesity - related disorder that can complicate pregnancy. This type of sleep apnea is sometime associated with hypertension disorders, and it can lead to problems with your baby’s development.

Labor and Delivery - Obese women tend to have longer labors. Studies have shown that the more the mother weighs, the longer it takes for her cervix to dilate, thus longer labor times. Obese women are more likely to have labor induction than their leaner counterparts. They also have more epidural failure rates.

Cesarean Section - Because of obesity - related pregnancy complications, women who are obese have an increased risk of having a cesarean sections rather than vaginal births.  Some women feel that the risks of a vaginal birth may outweigh the risks of a cesarean delivery, thus are requesting cesarean section on demand.

For a healthy baby at the end of your pregnancy, preventing and managing obesity - related pregnancy complications is key. Avoiding excessive weight gain during pregnancy is also very important.

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