Extreme preterm births, or those before 28 weeks of pregnancy, could be caused by obesity, according to a new study compiled by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine. In general, a preterm birth is defined as any birth before 37 weeks. Most occur sometime between 28 and 37 weeks, but giving birth before 28 weeks can have much more severe consequences, especially if you’re obese.
"Until now, people have been thinking of preterm birth as one condition, simply by defining it as any birth that happens at least three weeks early," says Gary Shaw, DrPH, a pediatrician who led the study. "But it's not as simple as that. Preterm birth is not one construct; gestational age matters."
Basically, the risks of an obese woman giving birth at, say, 35 weeks pale in comparison to the risks of those who give birth at 28 weeks or earlier.
With one in four women of childbearing age being obese in the United States, avoiding these preterm births can be tricky. Stillbirths, which can occur any time after 20 weeks, are more common in obese women, with 1 in 500 pregnancies resulting in stillbirth (compared to 1 in 1,000 among women who aren't obese). Babies of obese moms already have twice the risk of neural tube defects, a 30 percent higher chance of heart defects and a 60 percent higher chance of fluid in the brain. And if the baby is born before 28 weeks, the list of possible complications expands to include cerebral palsy, developmental delays and impaired vision or hearing.
For first time mothers who were caucasian and obese, the risk of giving birth between 20 and 23 weeks was six times higher than for women who had an average body weight pre-pregnancy.
So, now you have the facts. What can you do to reduce your own risk? Like we said, being obese and pregnant isn't exactly uncommon in the United States, so if you're obese and expecting, there are plenty of other women who are going through the exact same thing. Read up on how obesity affects pregnancy, and realize that your choices during pregnancy could significantly impact baby's health. Ditch junk food in favor of nutritious meals, get some exercise in, and pay close attention to how much weight you gain during pregnancy. You can't completely reduce your risk of a preterm birth, but following these relatively easy guidelines will make your pregnancy a lot easier and impact how healthy baby is when he's born.
How are you taking care of yourself during pregnancy?