Overweight mothers pose health risk, study claims

Overweight and obese mums-to-be are risking the health of themselves and their unborn children, as well as putting additional strain on the health service, research has suggested.

Researchers at Teesside University carried out a study into maternal obesity and pregnancy outcome.

Professor Carolyn Summerbell, who heads up the University of Teesside's Centre for Food, Physical Activity and Obesity Research, said: "We're not trying to blame or stigmatise obese pregnant mothers and we would certainly not recommend that overweight mums-to-be go on crash diets.

"But our initial findings show reasons for concern with obese pregnant mothers and there is a lack of weight management guidance and support readily available for them."

Lead researcher Nicola Heslehurst said that the research team had been alerted to the growing problem by anecdotal evidence from midwives and other staff in maternity units in the region who were getting extremely concerned about the apparent increase in the number of women who were obese at the start of their pregnancy.

She said: "Doctors and midwives in the region have expressed concerns about the increase in complications that can arise when mums are obese. One of the problems is that sometimes you can't see the ultrasound scan of the baby properly in obese pregnant women and this can lead to clinical problems as well as being upsetting for the parents who are not able to see a picture of their baby."

Professor John Wilkinson, Director of the North East Public Health Observatory said that an initial scoping exercise carried out by researchers found that only six of the maternity units in the region's 17 maternity hospitals under review kept systematic electronic data on obese mums-to-be.

He said: "Until the late 1980s the height and weight of pregnant women was regularly monitored. But this became unfashionable in recent years as it was felt this caused unnecessary concern and worry to women who had gained a couple of extra pounds. But our study recommends that a routine system of monitoring the height and body weight of pregnant mothers is extended to all maternity units."

The research indicated that there were other implications for maternity services including:

  • Stronger equipment such as delivery beds to support heavier mothers

  • Reduced patient choice and discouraging home births

  • Referring patients to consultants rather than midwifery-led care

  • Ruling out the use of birthing pools or alternative delivery methods

  • An increase in caesarean sections

  • Lifting and handling issues for staff in the maternity services

Dr Judith Rankin, Associate Director of the Regional Maternity Survey Office and a a partner in the study said that research already carried out by the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health indicates that a third of maternal deaths were in mothers who were obese. He said: "While this is clearly a serious issue, we don't want to do anything that will encourage pregnant women who are obese to go on a crash diet during pregnancy. What they should do is try to eat a healthy diet during pregnancy and then lose weight after their child is born and before they have their next child."


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