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Obesity and Pregnancy: A Growing Problem for Moms and Babies

By Ken Dey, News and Community
May 28, 2013

Every pregnant woman needs special care, but the increasing number of pregnant women who are also obese, a condition called maternal obesity, is of great concern to physicians like Dr. Clarence Blea, a specialist at St. Luke’s Maternal Fetal Medicine. This is because obese women’s pregnancies often come with a lot of complications.

The issue is growing – today, nearly half of Dr. Blea’s patients are obese. And the problems go well beyond the womb. Research has shown that obesity contributes to a number of health conditions in mom, from high blood pressure to diabetes to early delivery of the baby. This can mean time away from home and family due to doctor visits or hospitalization, added health care costs, and even birth defects.

Dr. Blea explains some of the complications in the video below.

Working Together for Healthier Moms and Babies

Along with the possibility of birth defects, babies born to obese moms can have other complications. That’s why Dr. Blea and his partners work with the specialists at St. Luke’s Neonatology and the staff at St. Luke’s Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICU) to help ensure the best outcomes for these babies. St. Luke’s specialists also work closely with Mom’s referring local doctor. For women with high-risk pregnancies living outside the Treasure Valley, this coordination can help to keep them at home while they are receiving specialized care.

Dr. Scott Snyder, St. Luke's NICU medical director, said that maternal obesity is now one of the major reasons babies are admitted to the NICU. This is because pregnant obese women often have diabetes, which results in high blood sugar – and when the baby is born and the cord is cut, the baby’s blood sugar can plummet to dangerous levels. Find out more in the video below about the challenges babies face.

Maternal Obesity Impacts Health of Growing Children, Too

Dr. Snyder is also concerned about the negative impact of maternal obesity on the babies, even as they grow older. Research has shown that babies born to obese moms are at higher risk for adult-onset diabetes, heart disease, and even behavioral issues.

Healthy Pregnancy, Healthy Baby

Dr. Blea knows there’s not an easy fix. He believes it will take a societal shift away from sedentary lifestyles fueled by fast food to chisel away at the problem of obesity. His advice to women is to get healthy before pregnancy by exercising and eating nutritious foods daily. He also believes exercise during pregnancy is one of the best things moms-to-be can do to help ensure a healthy baby.

The care provided by St. Luke’s Maternal Fetal Medicine and St. Luke’s NICU supports St. Luke's Triple Aim of better health, better care, and lower cost. By encouraging healthier habits before and during pregnancy, and coordinating care among our specialists and referring physicians, we can lower the risk of complications and help to ensure happy, healthy moms, babies and children.

Learn More about Maternal Obesity

To learn more about how being overweight or obese during pregnancy can impact moms and babies, visit the March of Dimes.

About The Author

Ken Dey served as Public Relations Coordinator at St. Luke's from 2008-2014.