Obese Pregnant Women More Likely to Deliver Prematurely

First Posted: Jun 12, 2013 10:52 AM EDT

A recent study suggests that overweight or obese women who are pregnant may be more likely to give birth prematurely. This study also shows that the risk of preterm delivery can increase with added amounts of excess weight.

Researchers speculate that the health problems associated with being overweight or obese, including high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high cholesterol and an increased chance for infection, can have a direct and lasting effect on a woman's fertility.

Lead study author Dr. Scen Cnattingius of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, describes how birth of an infant prior to 37 weeks gestation is the leading cause of infant mortality, neonatal illness and long-term disabilities seen in many children.

"This just reinforces the fact that the complications of obesity and additional weight gain are deleterious to both mother and fetus," said Dr. Raul Artal, via U.S. News and World Report, a professor and chairman of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and women's health at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

Artal suggests that with weight management, expectant mothers can help protect the health of their future child.

"The concept that we propagated for years that pregnancy is not a good time for weight loss and physical activity is wrong," he added, according to U.S. News and World Report.

The study analyzed the records of 1.59 million births between 1992 and 2010. They reviewed the body-mass index (BMI) of the women at their first prenatal doctor's visit and any information recorded following birth about health risks, maternal disease or other complications. The statistics for the study came from the Swedish Medical Birth Register, which contained the data of over 1.5 million delivers in Sweden.

The researchers found that the risk of extremely premature (22 to 27 weeks), very premature (28 to 31 weeks) and moderately premature (32 to 36 weeks) deliveries increased with a woman's BMI.

And even though the study used information from Sweden, the same results can be seen in other populations with higher rates of maternal obesity or preterm delivery.

Statistics show that the United States alone has an estimated infant mortality rate of 5.9 million expected for 2013. And when compared to Sweden, the United States has preterm delivery rates almost twice as high. Background information from the study also showed that 25 percent of all U.S. infant deaths were to blame from preterm births, which could also lead to long-term disabilities. 

The findings for the study are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association

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