Fertility and pregnancy * Babies and children

One in twenty pregnant women obese

One in twenty pregnant women obese Mother and baby at greater risk of health problems

Around one in twenty pregnant women in the UK are severely obese, putting themselves and their unborn babies at greater risk of a range of health problems, a UK-wide study has found.

The three year study by the Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries (CMACE) revealed that 38,478 severely obese women fall pregnant each year, a figure which is expected to increase in line with the growing levels of obesity in the UK.

Compared with the general population, women who are severely obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or more, are at greater risk of a range of health problems and pregnancy related illness.

Obese pregnant women were also found to be at greater risk of developing blood clots, high blood pressure and diabetes compared with pregnant women in the normal weight range.

When it came to giving birth, obese women were 1.5 times more likely to have a caesarian section and four times more likely to suffer from a haemorrhage within 24 hours.

The stillbirth rate in severely obese women was twice as high as the national stillbirth rate, and the risk of stillbirth rose with increasing obesity.

The study also found that many maternity units were "underprepared" to deal with the rising number of obese women and related pregnancy complications. Fewer than half of women at moderate or high risk of blood clots were offered treatment at maternity units to prevent the condition.

Dr Imogen Stephens, CMACE clinical director, said: “This CMACE report shows that much more needs to be done in the NHS to deal with the growing numbers of obese pregnant women.

"We have already shown in our previous survey how specialist equipment such as wheelchairs, trolleys and beds are needed to care for this unique group of women.

"The findings from this new study show that the risks of clinical intervention increase with increasing levels of obesity and that specialist obstetric care is needed. All this requires improved, and better integrated, care for these women.”

Wales was found to have the highest rate of severe maternal obesity in the UK, at 6.5 per cent, or 1 in every 15 pregnant women.

In England, the region with the highest rate was the east at 6.2 per cent, or 1 in every 16 pregnant women, while London had the lowest rate at 3.5 per cent, or one in every 29 pregnant women.

This article was published on Tue 7 December 2010

Image © Karen Roach - Fotolia.com

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