According to McMaster University researchers who collected information from over one million women in 84 studies, overweight moms-to-be have considerably higher risks of delivering prematurely. This risk increases with the weight of the women.
In the first 28 days of a baby’s life, those born prematurely have the highest risk of illness and death. The complications from premature birth include breathing problems, infections and feeding problems with the ultimate risk being death. The rise of obesity in women has contributed to the rise in cesarean sections, along with an increased rate of birth trauma and delivery room emergencies, including birth injuries.
Pre-eclampsia, which is a condition of pregnancy marked by high blood pressure, is more likely to be found in obese women as are blood clots in the legs and diabetes. According to Canadian statistics, 23%of women are obese, while 29% are overweight. Women aged 25-34, deliver over 60% of Canadian babies every year and their obesity rates have nearly doubled in the past 25 years.
In comparison, in the United States according to The Weight-control Information Network, 49.6% of non-Hispanic black women, 43 % of Hispanic women and 33% of non-Hispanic white women are obese. With these high levels of obesity among American women, one can assume that women in the U.S. share the same risks as those in Canada.
The studies found an increased risk of about 24% of spontaneous preterm birth in the overweight or obese women. Additionally, these women had a 30% greater risk of induced preterm births before 37 weeks (a full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks). In the very obese women, the risk rises to 70 %.
Although doctors are not recommending pregnant women lose a large amount of weight during their pregnancy, these studies stress that women should try to optimize their weight before pregnancy to reduce the risks to the child. Weight loss can remove or lessen some of the risks. Childbirth is a routine procedure, but malpractice does occur and the effects can be devastating. That is why it is crucial for expecting mothers to do whatever they can to reduce the risk of premature birth and complications during labor and delivery. Doing so may help to prevent serious and lifelong birth injuries such as Erb’s Palsy or Cerebral Palsy. Birth injury prevention should be an important consideration for all pregnant women.