How does obesity affect pregnancy?
There are a variety of questions to consider while family planning: Are we financially prepared? How will this impact our careers? What are our options for childcare?
Another key factor to consider is physical health, specifically for obese women planning to become pregnant.
This is especially relevant as obesity rates are on the rise in the United States. According to the CDC, in 2019 nearly 30% of women had obesity prior to becoming pregnant. This is an 11% increase from 2016, which continued the upward trend.
Dr. Jamilah Okoe Sowemimo, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill., explains that the first obstacle a woman with pre-pregnancy obesity may experience is an increased risk of infertility due to menstrual irregularities.
Unfortunately, the challenge doesn’t end with getting pregnant. Once pregnant, obese women are predisposed to preeclampsia, elevated blood pressure typically occurring in the third trimester, and gestational diabetes. Additionally, obese women are more likely to need a cesarean section delivery.
“Even after your childbearing years, the risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes increases your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes moving forward,” Dr. Okoe Sowemimo explains. “For example, women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy have a 50% chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.”
To ensure the health of the woman takes precedence and that she has the best chance of a successful pregnancy, Dr. Okoe Sowemimo recommends women struggling with obesity consider trying lifestyle modifications to get to a healthier weight before becoming pregnant.
“It is challenging for a lot of women to lose weight, but you can take baby steps. Consider counseling for nutrition and exercise. If you meet the threshold for bariatric surgery, that can be a good option too,” Dr. Okoe Sowemimo notes.
Finally, for women who begin pregnancy with obesity, it’s important to monitor weight gain to ensure it is adequate to sustain the pregnancy but not excessive to cause further complications.
About the Author
Elizabeth Blasko is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. She studied public relations and nonprofit leadership at Western Michigan University. Prior to joining Advocate Aurora Health Elizabeth worked at Bernie’s Book Bank, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing book ownership among underserved children. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, watching auto racing, spending time with family and keeping active with her rescue dog, Bristol.