Being overweight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25–29.9. Obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or greater. Within the general category of obesity, there are three levels that reflect the increasing health risks that go along with increasing BMI:
- Lowest risk is a BMI of 30–34.9.
- Medium risk is a BMI of 35.0–39.9.
- Highest risk is a BMI of 40 or greater.
You can calculate your BMI using the following formula: BMI = (Weight in Pounds / (Height in inches x Height in inches)) x 703 or using an online BMI calculator.
Does being obese during pregnancy put me at risk of any health problems?
Obesity during pregnancy puts you at risk of several serious health problems:
- Gestational diabetes is diabetes that is first diagnosed during pregnancy. This condition can increase the risk of having a cesarean delivery. Women who have had gestational diabetes also have a higher risk of having diabetes in the future, as do their children. Obese women are screened for gestational diabetes early in pregnancy and also may be screened later in pregnancy as well.
- Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder that can occur during pregnancy or after pregnancy. It is a serious illness that affects a woman’s entire body. The kidneys and liver may fail. Preeclampsia can lead to seizures, a condition called eclampsia. In rare cases, stroke can occur. Severe cases need emergency treatment to avoid these complications. The baby may need to be delivered early.
- Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person stops breathing for short periods during sleep. Sleep apnea is associated with obesity. During pregnancy, sleep apnea not only can cause fatigue but also increases the risk of high blood pressure, preeclampsia, eclampsia, and heart and lung disorders.
Does being obese during pregnancy put my baby at risk of any problems?
Obesity increases the risk of the following problems during pregnancy:
- Pregnancy loss—Obese women have an increased risk of pregnancy loss (miscarriage) compared with women of normal weight.
- Birth defects—Babies born to obese women have an increased risk of having birth defects, such as heart defects and neural tube defects.
Problems with diagnostic tests—Having too much body fat can make it difficult to see certain problems with the baby’s anatomy on an ultrasound exam. Checking the baby’s heart rate during labor also may be more difficult if you are obese.
- Macrosomia—In this condition, the baby is larger than normal. This can increase the risk of the baby being injured during birth. For example, the baby’s shoulder can become stuck during delivery. Macrosomia also increases the risk of cesarean delivery. Infants born with too much body fat have a greater chance of being obese later in life.
- Preterm birth—Problems associated with a woman’s obesity, such as preeclampsia, may lead to a medically indicated preterm birth. This means that the baby is delivered early for a medical reason. Preterm babies are not as fully developed as babies who are born after 39 weeks of pregnancy. As a result, they have an increased risk of short-term and long-term health problems.
- Stillbirth—The higher the woman’s BMI, the greater the risk of stillbirth.
If I am overweight or obese, should I plan to lose weight before getting pregnant?
Losing weight before you become pregnant is the best way to decrease the risk of problems caused by obesity. Losing even a small amount of weight (5–7% of your current weight, or about 10–20 pounds) can improve your overall health and pave the way for a healthier pregnancy.
How can I lose weight safely?
To lose weight, you need to use up more calories than you take in. You can do this by getting regular exercise and eating healthy foods. Your obstetrician may refer you to a nutritionist to help you plan a healthy diet. Increasing your physical activity is important if you want to lose weight. Aim to be moderately active (for example, biking, brisk walking, and general gardening) for 60 minutes or vigorously active (jogging, swimming laps, or doing heavy yard work) for 30 minutes on most days of the week. You do not have to do this amount all at once. For instance, you can exercise for 20 minutes three times a day.
Can I still have a healthy pregnancy if I am obese?
Despite the risks, you can have a healthy pregnancy if you are obese. It takes careful management of your weight, attention to diet and exercise, regular prenatal care to monitor for complications, and special considerations for your labor and delivery. There may be additional tests and consultations that need to be performed to monitor you for complications.
How much should I exercise during pregnancy?
If you have never exercised before, pregnancy is a great time to start. Discuss your exercise plan with your obstetrician to make sure it is safe. Begin with as little as 5 minutes of exercise a day and add 5 minutes each week. Your goal is to stay active for 30 minutes on most—preferably all—days of the week. Walking is a good choice if you are new to exercise. Swimming is another good exercise for pregnant women. The water supports your weight so you can avoid injury and muscle strain. It also helps you stay cool.
How will my weight be monitored during pregnancy?
Your weight will be tracked at each prenatal visit. The growth of your baby also will be checked. If you are gaining less than the recommended guidelines, and if your baby is growing well, you do not have to increase your weight gain to catch up to the guidelines. If your baby is not growing well, changes may need to be made to your diet and exercise plan.
Recommended weight gain is based on your BMI:
- BMI of 18-24.9: gain 25-35lbs total
- BMI of 25-29.9: gain 15-25lbs total
- BMI of 30 and greater: gain 10-20lbs total
How does obesity affect labor and delivery?
Overweight and obese women have longer labors than women of normal weight. It can be harder to monitor the baby during labor. Obesity during pregnancy increases the likelihood of having a cesarean delivery. If a cesarean delivery is needed, the risks of infection, bleeding, wound problems and other complications are greater for an obese woman than for a woman of normal weight. Obese women are also at increased risk for developing DVT (blood clots in their veins).
How can I manage my weight after my baby is born?
Once you are home with your new baby, stick to your healthy eating and exercise habits to reach a normal weight. Breastfeeding is recommended for the first year of a baby’s life. Not only is breastfeeding the best way to feed your baby, it also may help with postpartum weight loss. Overall, women who breastfeed their babies for at least a few months tend to lose pregnancy weight faster than women who do not breastfeed.