Obesity in Pregnancy Increases Baby’s Risk of Heart Defects

Obesity increases the risk that a woman will have a child with a congenital heart defect – and the odds are greater the more obese the woman is.

Pregnant moms who are obese not only put their own health at risk but also increase the risk of having a baby with congenital heart defects, according to a new study.

Researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) found that obese mothers have an average 15 percent increased risk of giving birth to a baby with a heart defect, and the risk increases as her weight increases. The risk jumps to 33 percent in morbidly obese women.

Obesity is measured by body mass index (BMI). A normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.9, whereas 25 to 29.9 is overweight and a BMI of 30.0 or higher is considered obese. In America, one in five women is clinically obese at the beginning of their pregnancy, increasing the mother’s risk of a host of health issues, including preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and cesarean delivery.

For the NICHD study, the researchers compared the records of 7,392 mothers who had children born with major heart defects and more than 56,000 mothers with babies born with no birth defects. The researchers noted that the study is not conclusive, however, since the data focused on records of infants after they were born and does not prove that women who lose weight before pregnancy will lessen the risk of giving birth to a baby with a heart defect.

Even so, it makes sense for a woman to shed some pounds before trying to become pregnant.

Said study author Dr. James Mills, of the NICHD’s Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research, “Not only will weight loss improve her own health and that of her infant, it is likely to have the added benefit of reducing the infant’s risk for heart defects.”

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