Obesity and Pregnancy: A Closer Look
Obesity in America has become one of the most pressing health issues to date. From 2010 to 2012 alone, the proportion of obese adults aged 20 and over climbed from 23% to 34%. Obesity is widely defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of above 30. While BMI can be a fairly reliable tool, it does have some downsides (for example, many bodybuilders have very low body fat, but weights that result in a high BMI without being overweight or obese). The parameters of what constitutes obesity may get blurry at times, but there is little confusion over the fact that obesity can be detrimental to one’s health.
Obesity affects more women than men, leading to some unique challenges–namely, the ability to successfully conceive and deliver a healthy child. Nearly 36% of women of childbearing age are obese, and it can cause complications before, during, and after pregnancy. Even obese women who have never experienced any severe health problems can easily develop conditions ranging from hypertension to diabetes once they become pregnant. This, in turn, can have serious consequences for both the woman and the fetus–from premature birth to stillbirth or miscarriage.
For many women, losing weight is about more than simply conjuring enough willpower–even the American Heart Association has released new guidelines encouraging doctors to consider obesity as a disease, in and of itself. In fact, there is an effort nationwide to change the way doctors view pregnant, obese patients. The committee on ethics of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests that “obese patients should not be viewed differently from other patient populations that require additional care or who have increased risks of adverse medical outcomes.” Obese patients should be cared for “in a nonjudgmental manner,” it says, adding that it is unethical for doctors to refuse care within the scope of their expertise “solely because the patient is obese.”
It is known that obesity affects a disproportionate amount of women of lower socioeconomic status, as they lack access to healthy food choices and opportunities for regular exercise. While attempts at weight loss are best done before pregnancy, women who become pregnant should not cease them. Losing weight during pregnancy is not recommended, but obese women should aim to gain less weight than thinner women. This should be made a priority as babies of obese women are more likely to develop neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. They are also more likely to suffer birth injuries such as shoulder dystocia, which may occur when the infant is very large.
High blood pressure, more common in obesity, can result in pre-eclampsia during pregnancy. Pre-eclampsia can damage the mother’s kidneys and cause complications with the child such as low birth weight, prematurity and stillbirth. Medical procedures such as sonograms also are more difficult to conduct with obese women. This can delay detection of abnormalities that may require careful monitoring or medical intervention.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for everyone. However, considering the additional risks involved, it is particularly vital for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. Health Concerns has a number of formulas designed to promote healthy weight. Please take a moment to explore the following formulas (click to view monograph):