You must surely know that obesity drags along deleterious health consequences namely diabetes, heart diseases and certain cancers. But were you aware that adding pregnancy to the equation amplifies the risks of complications for both mother and child?

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden found that overweight and obese women were more susceptible to deliver prematurely. The earlier a baby is born, the more vulnerable to complications she/he is likely to be.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), premature babies are at increased risks of long-term problems such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, respiratory disorders, visual impairment, hearing loss, feeding and digestive disorders.

Study details

Led by Dr Cnattingius, the researchers analysed the public health records of almost 1.6 million single births that occurred in Sweden from 1992 to 2010. The purpose of this study was to assess the correlation between early pregnancy BMI and the risk of extremely preterm (22 to 27 weeks), very preterm (28 to 31 weeks) and moderately preterm (32 to 36 weeks) births.

Study findings

Results showed that the risks of premature births intensified with increasing BMI. The scientists also observed that the risks of spontaneous extremely preterm delivery increased with BMI among obese women (BMI > 30kg/m2).

The scientists speculated that obesity-related health problems — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance and vulnerability to infections — directly impact the mother’s ability to carry their baby to term. More research is needed to understand the exact mechanism behind these observations.

What previous research have shown

Women who are overweight or obese at the time of conception are at increased risks of:

  • Severe complications during pregnancy such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia;
  • Haemorrhoids;
  • Giving birth to a large baby — this could make delivery more difficult and could require a C-section.
  • Miscarriage

Scientists have also linked maternal obesity during pregnancy to birth defects in the baby. They found that babies had a two-fold risk of spina bifida and heart defects and a three times higher risk of omphalocele, an abnormality of the abdominal wall.

What you can do to protect yourself and your baby

Planning to conceive?

Then, go for a general check up (routine blood tests and physical exam) at least 3 months before trying to get pregnant. This will give you sufficient time to improve your dietary habits and get your weight in check if needed. A dietitian can help you come up with personalised eating, fitness and behaviour modification plans that will ensure you have the best pregnancy experience possible and deliver a perfectly healthy baby.

Assessing your percent body fat would be a great idea too (even if your body weight is normal). Having a lot of fat, especially around the organs (visceral fat), can predispose you to gestational diabetes.

What if you already have a bun in the oven?

Even if your pre-pregnancy weight was normal, you still have to monitor what and how much you eat. Gaining excessive weight during pregnancy can also put you at higher risk of delivering prematurely.

And if you started your ‘baby-journey’ with some excess kilos, there’s no point in blaming yourself. A dietitian can help you create a well-balanced diet and exercise routine for you.


    Cnattingius et al (2013) Maternal obesity and risk of preterm delivery. JAMA. 309(22):2362-2370.