Maternal obesity is rising, research shows, leading to increased risks for mothers

New research shows rates of obesity in pregnant women have increased considerably in the last two decades, placing mothers and babies at risk. 

In first time mothers, the prevalence of overweight women increased from 12.7 per cent in 1994 to 16.4 per cent in 2014, and the prevalence of obesity rose from 4.8 per cent to 7.3 per cent in the same period. 

Murrumbidgee Local Health District midwifery manager Sandra Forde said there are various risks associated with a pregnant women being overweight, or obese. 

“The woman is at a greater risk of developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy, and she is also at increased risk of having issues with hypertension or what we call pre-eclampsia,” she said. 

In the Murrumbidgee district between 2007 and 2015, 8.3 per cent of maternal medical conditions were gestational diabetes. In the same period, pre-eclampsia was 2 per cent of maternal medical conditions. 

Ms Forde said that one of the best ways to counter these issues is to provide education to women. One method is to encourage women in the Riverina to take part in the ‘Get Healthy In Pregnancy Program’. 

“It provides women 10 coaching sessions and allows them the opportunity to explore healthy eating, an appropriate way to exercise during the pregnancy,” she said. 

The program has an array of benefits, Ms Forde said, including reducing back pain and nausea and increasing energy levels.

“It gives the woman the opportunity to return to her pre-pregnancy weight and fitness level,” she said. 

Ms Forde also said that the reason education is so crucial in dealing with this issue, is it can have a ripple effect. 

“It enables them to provide better role modeling for their children and their families to eat healthy to exercise more,” she said.

“It’s got a lot of long-term effects and it can help decrease childhood obesity which is what we are really trying to target.”

Associate Professor Kirsten Black, co-author of the research published in the Medical Journal of Australia, said maternal obesity has a three-fold effect. 

“Maternal obesity has an adverse income on the woman herself because it increases risks for her pregnancy and long-term health,” she said. 

“It increases risk for the baby in pregnancy and also during its long-term health, and then there are health system impacts as it is much more costly to care for someone who has complications.”

Ms Black said that women need to plan ahead of their pregnancy. 

“75 per cent of people plan for retirement but only about 50 per cent plan for a pregnancy.” she said. 

“We are too casual about falling pregnant when all women should plan for their pregnancies.”

Ms Black said there are a range of things, such as reducing alcohol intake, that women can do to ensure their own health and the health of their future baby before they get pregnant.