Is obesity harmful for pregnant women and their unborn children?

Today's obesity statistics are staggering. Nearly 1 in every 3 Americans are diagnosed as obese, and 1 in 20 are considered severely obese. Unfortunately, that number is only rising, and with it rises the number of pregnant women who are obese.

Recently, medical researchers have increased focus on the risks that overweight or obese women put on their prenatal and postnatal health, as well as their deliveries. New studies have uncovered direct evidence linking obesity and certain pregnancy-related complications.

Study: Obesity in pregnant women
The risks of birth complications and defects increases significantly in obese women, according to a survey by NHS Scotland, the national publicly funded health care system, reported The Guardian. The study, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, found that a woman with a body mass index above 35 had an increased risk for hypertension as well as gestational diabetes. Both of these conditions can present serious complications as well as the risk of fatality for both mother and baby.

Research also showed that obese women were more likely to be readmitted to the hospital after the birth. In comparison to the control women, the study found that overweight women were 16 percent more likely to be readmitted. Obese women were 45 percent more likely to return to hospitals, while those classified as severely obese were 88 percent more likely to require follow-up care.

What other risks are associated with obesity during pregnancy?
According to the Mayo Clinic, obesity can affect a woman before pregnancy even begins by inhibiting normal ovulation. Women who are obese or severely obese have a greater chance of miscarriage. Obesity can also cause a heightened chance of developing gestational diabetes, which can interfere with healthy baby development.

While pregnant, obese women also face increased risks of postpartum after the birth and urinary tract infections as well as thrombosis, a condition in which blood clots inside the vessels. Women are also more apt to develop obstructive sleep apnea, a serious condition in which the body stops breathing while asleep.

During labor, obese women are more likely to require cesarean sections. They are also more likely to experience preeclampsia, a serious condition in which high-blood pressure may cause death, and they have more difficulty inducing labor in the first place.

"We know that maternal obesity is a major cause of ill health in pregnancy," said Mike Marsh, BJOG deputy editor-in-chief, according to The Guardian.

How to lower your risk
The first and most obvious way to reduce your risk of obesity-related complications is to stick to a healthy pregnancy diet prescribed by your doctor. Limit yourself to the recommended amount of calories per day and choose vitamin- and mineral-rich foods including dark, leafy vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.

The second thing you can do is follow a prenatal fitness routine. Exercising while pregnant is a great way to burn excess calories while building your strength for labor and delivery. Start small and make sure to listen to your body during the process - it will tell you if it's time to stop. If you're unused to exercise, talk to your doctor or fitness trainer before beginning.

Finally, don't hesitate to consult a medical professional if you feel something may be wrong. Seeking medical attention in time may lower your risk for complications and help ensure a healthy birth. If you're looking for a more personalized level of prenatal medical care, consider hiring a midwife. These certified professionals can help reduce your risk of serious complications, and many insurances such as Medicare cover 100 percent of the costs.

What other suggestions do you have for ensuring a healthy delivery? Let us know in the comments section!