Obesity exposes you to a wide range of illnesses, such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, gout, gallstones, and heart disease. It can even lead to cancer of the kidney, colon, esophagus, breast, and uterine lining, and recent studies have found out that it can also contribute to gallbladder, pancreatic, and ovarian cancers.
Obesity also exposes pregnant women to various complications, and it can even affect the health of their unborn baby. If you are obese, you might find your pregnancy to be difficult and challenging.
What Is Obesity?
Obesity is the state of having large amounts of body fat. It’s often determined by Body Mass Index or BMI, which is calculated by dividing your weight (in kilograms) by the square of your height (in meters). You’re considered obese if your BMI is 30 to 39.9, and you’re considered extremely obese if your BMI is 40 or higher.
BMI is an accurate way to determine whether a person is obese or not, except for bodybuilders who have high numbers on the scale not because of fat but because of muscle mass. Take note that BMI should be calculated before pregnancy; calculating BMI during pregnancy may result to a false-positive since women naturally gain weight when they’re carrying a child.
The Risks of Being Obese while Pregnant
As mentioned above, obesity can cause complications both with the pregnant woman and her unborn child. We’ve listed some of these risks below:
Effects on the mother
Any pregnant woman can develop this health issue, but those who are obese have a higher risk since their blood sugar levels are already high enough, even before pregnancy. If you have gestational diabetes, you’ll become a likely candidate for Caesarian delivery and have a higher risk of developing Type-2 diabetes in the future.
High blood pressure
When you’re pregnant, your body produces a higher blood volume to provide nourishment to your baby. This causes your blood pressure to naturally rise in the second trimester or the start of the third trimester.
However, even if this hypertension is brought about by natural causes, you’ll still need to be carefully monitored by your health provider to ensure that you don’t have preeclampsia, which can lead to serious complications.
This condition is characterized by increased blood pressure and signs of organ damage, specifically the liver and kidneys. It can cause several complications, like placental abruption (i.e. the placenta separates from the uterine wall before delivery), and HELLP syndrome (or hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count).
It can also lead to eclampsia, which can cause seizures and can be fatal to both mother and child.
Obesity increases your risk of getting urinary tract infections when you’re pregnant. It also puts you at risk of developing infections after you give birth to your baby, regardless of your delivery method.
Any woman can experience miscarriage, but the risk is higher if you have obesity. According to studies, the risk of miscarriage before the 12th week of pregnancy increases from 20 percent to 25 percent in obese women.
Overdue pregnancy and labor problems
In women with obesity, there’s a high risk that the pregnancy will continue beyond the expected due date. They’re also more likely to have problems with labor. Some need to be induced to get their labor started, while others experience complications when anesthesia is used in delivery.
If you have preeclampsia or eclampsia, you may need to undergo a Caesarian section to deliver your baby early and minimize complications. C-section delivery is also recommended in women with gestational diabetes and who will have babies too large for vaginal delivery.
Effects on the child
Obese women are more likely to experience stillbirth, which happens when the baby dies inside the womb. Studies show that women with a BMI of more than 40 have two to three times higher risk of stillbirth compared to women with a normal BMI.
As mentioned above, you may have to deliver your baby before his due date if you have preeclampsia or eclampsia. This can be dangerous for your child; since his body is not yet fully developed, he’s more prone to developing short-term and long-term health issues.
Babies with macrosomia are larger than normal infants. If your baby has this condition, he’s more likely to experience shoulder dystocia (i.e. his shoulder gets stuck in the birth canal during vaginal delivery) and incur injuries.
If his size is too large for vaginal delivery, your physician might recommend C-section delivery to prevent further complications.
Babies born to mothers with obesity have higher risks of developing heart defects. They can also have spina bifida and other kinds of neural tube defects, which affect the brain and the spine.
These defects can lead to severe physical and mental disabilities and even cause infant death immediately or a few days after birth.
Future health problems
Babies of obese mothers have higher risks of developing health issues (including diabetes and heart disease) in their childhood or adulthood. Babies with macrosomia also have higher risks of becoming obese as they grow up.
Important Steps to Take
If you have obesity, never try to diet during pregnancy. Your baby needs plenty of nourishment as he grows in your womb, so it’s not advisable to limit your food intake.
The best thing you can do is improve your diet and eat healthier foods, including fruits, vegetables, and lean meat, which contain lots of nutrients but don’t cause weight gain. Doing light exercises can also help you maintain good health and avoid gaining too much weight.
Before you change your diet or increase your physical activity, seek the help of your physician first. In fact, it’s important to get in touch with a reliable and experienced obstetrician as soon as you know that you’re pregnant.
Your doctor will monitor your health to check for any complications and give you the appropriate treatment ASAP if ever you develop any health problems. He’ll also give you advice on how to properly manage your weight without harming yourself and your baby.