Maternal Obesity a Risk Factor in Birth Injuries
A woman’s weight is her own business. Plus-sized models are taking over magazines and even runways, and looking beautiful while doing it. But when it comes to being pregnant, the choices you make can seriously affect your unborn child.
If at all possible, women should lose any extra weight before becoming pregnant. In cases of maternal obesity, doctors must be especially vigilant in monitoring for health complications that could lead to birth injury to the baby.
Obesity v. “Gaining Too Much Pregnancy Weight”
Being “obese” is defined medically as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. The larger the BMI, the greater the risk of complications during pregnancy. You can calculate your BMI here.
Whether a woman already falls under the obese classification (called MOP) or simply gains way more weight than she needs to to support her growing baby (GWG), it’s called “maternal obesity.” In 2015, researchers found that nearly half of first-time mothers are overweight, and more than half gain more weight than they should during pregnancy. Women who are already obese are then three times more likely to gain too much weight during pregnancy.
Recommended weight gains during pregnancy, according to Institute of Medicine, if you are:
- Underweight (BMI less than 18.5) is 25–40 lbs
- Normal (BMI range 18.5–24.9) is 25–35 lbs
- Overweight (BMI range 25–29.9) is 15–25 lbs
- Obese (BMI greater than 30) is 11–20 lbs
Your doctor needs to be honest with you about your pregnancy health and monitor your baby’s development carefully. There is a widespread cultural misconception about “eating for two” that medical providers should be working to dispel.
Why Too Much Weight Can Be Dangerous
There’s a greater strain on a mother’s pregnant body when she is obese. Her joints will hurt more, and swelling, backaches, hemorrhoids, and exhaustion are more likely. When it comes to her baby, there are lots of complications:
- Preeclampsia or high blood pressure
- Gestational diabetes
- Larger or overweight baby
- Shoulder dystocia in birthing process
- Longer or prolonged labor and delivery
- Fetal distress
- Likelihood of needing a Cesarean section
- Increased risk of birth defects
- Increased risk of cerebral palsy
- Increased risk of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy
- Increased risk of miscarriage or stillbirth
When Doctors Need to Intervene
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says: “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.”
Since maternal obesity is a huge risk factor, your OB/GYN has a duty to both you and your baby. Hospital staff, your doctor, and any other care providers you see should be actively monitoring, treating, and assessing your baby’s growth and health throughout the nine months of pregnancy.
- Before birth, tests should include ultrasound, cardiograph (heart monitoring), blood or amniotic fluid tests, and Doppler examinations. If there are complication, a C-section should be scheduled instead of regular birth.
- During birth, medical staff should use a fetal heart monitor to make sure the baby is not showing signs of intolerance to labor. If any sort of distress is detected, timely C-section intervention can keep the baby from suffering birth injury or death.
- After birth, babies of overweight mothers are at greater risk for neonatal hypoglycemia, which can cause brain damage. Close observation and feeding may be necessary.
Your doctor needs to fully explain all risks and possibilities to you. There’s a medical duty to provide “proper care” to all patients, especially ones at high risk! If there’s a chance or indication of birth injury, the doctor needs to act!
Know Your Legal Options
Obesity shouldn’t be the deciding factor in whether or not your child was injured. Some birth injuries attributed to “obesity” actually had to do with the doctors not carefully monitoring and treating related issues. If you weren’t warned or treated for conditions associated with obesity and your child was injured as a result, you may have legal rights.
Attorney Laura Brown is passionate about helping children and families who suffer from preventable medical errors.