Obesity and Pregnancy

A person is considered obese when his or her body mass index (BMI) is 30 or higher. Being obese increases the risk of many health conditions and complications. The same applies to women who are obese and become pregnant. You can still have a healthy pregnancy if you are obese. There are things you need to do to manage risks for you and your baby.

Path to improved wellness

Many women who are obese have healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies. However, there are risks to both you and your baby. Women who are obese have a higher risk of certain health problems during pregnancy, including:

  • Gestational diabetes. This type of diabetes only develops during pregnancy.
  • Infection. This can include urinary tract and postpartum infections.
  • Preeclampsia. This condition can cause high blood pressure and damage to organs, such as the kidneys.

You may also be at a higher risk for problems during labor and delivery, such as:

  • C-section. Obesity during pregnancy can result in more elective and emergency C-sections.
  • Labor problems. You are more likely to need to have your labor induced if you are obese. Obesity can also interfere with the use of certain types of pain medication. This can include epidural blocks.
  • Overdue pregnancy. Obesity increases the risk that pregnancy will continue beyond your expected due date.
  • Pregnancy loss. Obesity can increase the risk of miscarriage.

There is also a higher risk for health problems for your baby when you are obese during pregnancy. These can include birth defects and chronic conditions. Your baby may have an increased risk of developing diabetes or heart disease later in life.

It is important to take steps to manage your and your baby’s health. If you are obese and pregnant or planning to be pregnant, make sure you:

  • Schedule a preconception appointment. Talk to your doctor if you are obese and are planning to get pregnant. He or she may have you start taking prenatal vitamins. They can also work with you on a plan to reach a healthy weight before becoming pregnant.
  • Receive regular prenatal care. See your doctor regularly to monitor for complications. Discuss any medical conditions you may have and ways to manage them during pregnancy.
  • Carefully manage your weight. Ask him or her what a healthy weight gain would be during your pregnancy.
  • Focus on eating a healthy diet and working physical activity into your day. During pregnancy, you’ll need more calcium, folic acid, iron, and other essential nutrients. A daily prenatal vitamin can help fill any gaps.
  • Discuss special labor and delivery needs with your doctor before giving birth.

Things to consider

If you’re obese, your doctor will closely monitor your pregnancy. He or she might recommend:

  • Early testing for gestational diabetes. Women at average risk of gestational diabetes are usually given a screening test called the glucose challenge test between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy. If you’re obese, your doctor might recommend the screening test earlier.
  • Delayed fetal ultrasound. Fetal ultrasound evaluates a baby’s growth and development. It is typically done between weeks 18 and 20 of pregnancy. Ultrasound waves don’t easily penetrate abdominal fat tissue. This means that obesity during pregnancy can interfere with the effectiveness of a fetal ultrasound. Ultrasound results might be more detailed if the test is done a few weeks later.
  • Fetal echocardiography. Your doctor might recommend a fetal ultrasound that provides a detailed picture of your baby’s heart (called a fetal echocardiography) between weeks 22 and 24 of pregnancy. This test is used to rule out or confirm a congenital heart defect.
  • Frequent prenatal visits. Your doctor might recommend more frequent prenatal visits than is typical. This will help him or her monitor your and your baby’s health.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What are some ways I can manage my weight gain during pregnancy?
  • What are the health benefits of losing weight before I get pregnant?
  • Am I at risk for any complications after giving birth?

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pregnancy Complications

ChooseMyPlate.gov, Moms – Pregnancy and Breastfeeding