Women who are overweight before becoming pregnant and those who gain weight between pregnancies face increased risks of health problems for themselves and their babies according to an Australian first study by University of Canberra researchers.
The study of almost 15,000 women from 2008 to 2013, analysed body mass index (BMI) prior to and following pregnancy, and compared the rates of caesarean section, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure disorders, and neonatal health issues.
University of Canberra clinical assistant professor in nutrition and dietetics Cathy Knight-Agarwal, who led the study, said initial analysis of the group found just half of the expectant mums had a normal BMI (between 19-24).
“Five per cent of the women surveyed were classed as underweight (less than 18), with the remaining 45% overweight or obese (greater than 25).
“Women with BMIs above 25 have an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes and high-blood pressure. They are also more likely to have a caesarean section, while babies born to overweight and obese mums risked having low blood glucose levels and breathing difficulties,” Ms Knight-Agarwal said.
“We also found that women whose BMI increased by three points between pregnancies, irrespective of their starting weight or BMI, were at the same high risk of these problems with any following pregnancy as well.”
Professor of nursing and midwifery at the University of Canberra, Deborah Davis, who collaborated on the report, described the figures of overweight and obese mums as concerning, particularly in rural settings.
“Statistics show 32% of women in urban areas are overweight or obese when they become pregnant,” Professor Davis said. “In rural areas it’s more than double that rate, with two-thirds of pregnant women falling into those categories.
“These women are at a far greater risk of poor health outcomes for themselves and their babies and these mums, as well as health professionals and the public need to be aware of the risks.
Professor Davis said maternal health workers need to be aware of effective weight management strategies and prepared to discuss them with expectant and new mums.
“For women planning on becoming pregnant, having a healthy weight to start with is best and excessive weight gain during and between pregnancies should be discouraged.”
“Maternity care providers should be encouraged to discuss the health complications associated with a high BMI and provide those women with support following the birth, particularly if their weight has been identified as an issue,” Professor Davis said.
The study was published in the British Medical Journal Open.
(Source: University of Canberra, British Medical Journal Open)