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Researchers identify link between obesity severity and adverse outcomes for pregnant women and their babies

here are calls for a greater focus on weight management following new research defining the relationship between obesity and pregnancy-related complications for mother and baby.

The study follows an increase in obesity levels globally as well as a rise in prevalence during pregnancy. 

Today, more than 20 per cent of Australian women have obesity at the time of conception.

Kolling Institute researcher and Royal North Shore Hospital endocrinologist Associate Professor Sarah Glastras said we know that obesity in pregnancy increases the risk of the mother developing gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension or high blood pressure, and pre-eclampsia. 

There is also a higher risk of stillbirth as well as a caesarean section delivery. 

“Our research has now given us a much clearer picture of the direct link between the severity of obesity and the risk of adverse impacts for both the mother and her baby.”

Women with obesity are more likely to deliver a baby with congenital abnormalities, respiratory distress syndrome and have a large baby
Associate Professor Sarah Glastras

Three classes of obesity were identified with class one assessing women with the lowest severity of obesity. 

The research found 21 per cent of women with class I obesity developed gestational diabetes, compared with 28 per cent with class III. 

Women with class I obesity had half the risk of developing pre-eclampsia compared class III. (2.8% versus 6.2%). 

There was an increased risk of caesarean delivery, with a 40 per cent risk in class I, a 45 per cent risk in class II and 54 per cent in class III. This compared with the national average of 33 per cent. 

26 per cent of women with class I obesity had a large baby compared with 33 per cent in class III. 

“Our study highlights the importance of weight management in women of child-bearing age, not just during pregnancy, but also at the time of conception,” Sarah said. 

“Encouragingly, we also demonstrated that with good obstetric care, we can mitigate some of the risks associated with obesity in pregnancy.

“Our research not only provides individuals with an incentive to manage their own weight, but also offers health providers and policy-makers more evidence to support pre-conception weight management initiatives.” 

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