Having a child is the pinnacle of the American Dream for many couples (and singles!). Giving birth brings new meaning to the concept of family and, despite years of sleepless nights, parenthood is considered by many to be their greatest achievement.
For women who struggle to become pregnant or experience health risks during their pregnancy, such joy may seem like a distant dream. Women with obesity are at greater risk of experiencing complications with fertility and pregnancy than are women of healthy weight, making what should be a celebratory experience fraught with anxiety.
These are, unfortunately, legitimate fears. Obesity can result in lower implantation rates, increased likelihood of gestational diabetes and hypertension, preeclampsia, the need for a Caesarian delivery, greater occurrence of surgical site infection and low birth weight. Cardiac dysfunction and high blood pressure are also risks. Adding another layer of concern is that obesity-related risks are not limited to the mother. The fetus can be lost to miscarriage or stillborn, or newborns may have fetal macrosomia or experience birth defects. (Click here to learn more in a free white paper, Obesity and Pregnancy: Inherent Risks and the Benefits of Weight Loss.)
There is a light, however, as many of these conditions are reversible, and there are options to help reduce potentially negative outcomes. Weight loss prior to pregnancy has been shown to have a positive impact on many levels. It increases the chance of becoming pregnant and reduces risk of complications, including gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. The importance of pre-pregnancy weight loss should be emphasized for the safety of the mother and child, and only attempted during pregnancy if medically recommended.
Exercise is another positive step all mothers-to-be can take both to lose weight and become healthier. Exercising during pregnancy is encouraged, though women with obesity should be encouraged to discuss any plans with their doctor and to start slowly. Because medical checks occur throughout pregnancy, concerns or changes to an exercise regime can be discussed regularly.
Obesity increases pregnancy risks but they are not insurmountable. Ideally, health risks associated with pregnancy would be discussed well in advance of becoming pregnant to allow for steady weight loss and adoption of a fitness program. In addition to more positive physical outcomes, being informed and taking an active part in creating a healthier lifestyle for herself and her child can also have positive cognitive and emotional impact for future mothers, allowing them to experience their pregnancy and life as a family more fully.