Becoming Pregnant When You Are Obese

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Extra weight that puts you into the category of being obese can lead to health problems. Becoming pregnant when you are obese can lead to health problems for both you AND your baby.

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) over 30. Don’t know your BMI? You can find out by entering your height and weight into a calculator like this one: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm

When your weight puts you in the obese category, the higher your BMI, the greater the risk of negative health effects during pregnancy for both you and your baby.

Risks for you:

  • Gestational diabetes – Diabetes first diagnosed during pregnancy that can lead to an increased risk of you, and your children, developing diabetes later in life.
  • Preeclampsia – A serious high blood pressure disorder that requires emergency treatment and the possibility that your baby will need to be delivered early.
  • Sleep apnea – A condition in which you stop breathing for short periods of time that can lead to fatigue plus the increased risk of high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and others

Risks for your baby:

  • Pregnancy loss – If you are obese, you have an increased risk of miscarriage compared to women of normal weight.
  • Birth defects – Babies born to obese mothers have an increased risk of having birth defects. These include heart defects and neural tube defects like spina bifida.
  • Problems with diagnostic tests – If you have too much body fat, it may be difficult for your doctor to get a good reading on an ultrasound exam or to check the baby’s heart rate while you are in labor.
  • Macrosomia – Your baby is born larger than normal, which can increase the baby’s risk of being injured or becoming stuck during birth. It may also increase the chance that your baby develops weight-related issues later in life.
  • Preterm birth – If you are having obesity-related health issues, your baby may need to be born before he or she is fully developed, which can cause short-term and long-term health problems.
  • Stillbirth – The higher your BMI, the greater the chance that your baby will die before delivery.

Losing Weight

If you are obese, losing weight before you become pregnant, even 10 to 20 pounds, can make a big difference in your health. It can also help you to have a healthier pregnancy. The best way to lose weight is to get regular exercise and eat healthy foods so you are using up more calories than you are taking in. Your doctor can help you find a nutritionist who can help you learn more about healthy eating. There are also weight loss medications and surgery available as possibilities if changes in your diet and exercise don’t help.

Becoming Pregnant While Obese

If you become pregnant while you are obese, you can still have a healthy pregnancy. You just need to carefully manage your weight and pay strict attention to exercising and watching what you eat. You also need to get regular prenatal care and understand there may be special considerations for your labor and delivery.

  • Manage your weight: You only need about 300 extra calories a day during your second and third trimesters. That’s about the equivalent of a glass of skim milk and half a sandwich. The Choose My Plate website has sections for pregnant and breastfeeding moms to help you make the right food choices.
  • Exercise: Talk to your doctor about exercise, especially if you weren’t doing it before you became pregnant. He or she can help you with a plan to exercise safely.
  • Tracking Your Weight: Your doctor will check your weight gain and the growth of your baby at each visit.
  • Labor and delivery: Obese women tend to have longer labors than women of normal weight and it can be harder to monitor the baby’s health during labor. That’s why you may be more likely to have a cesarean delivery. This creates higher risks of infection, bleeding, and other complications if you are obese.

If you are obese, there are special considerations you need to keep in mind before becoming pregnant or while you are pregnant. Make sure you talk with your doctor so you can have the best chance of having a successful pregnancy.

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