A new study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health shows that women who are considered obese when they become pregnant are 200 percent more likely to lose their baby before they are one year old, compared to women who conceive when they are at a normal weight range.
The study says losing weight before trying to have a baby and only putting on a healthy amount of weight while pregnant “significantly” reduces the risk of the baby dying in infancy.
Experts say because of the country's increasing obesity rates, there is an urgent need for a an education campaign to reduce obesity among reproductive age women.
Study co-author and associate professor at Pitt's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr Katherine Himes, says, "Obesity and infant mortality are among the most critical public health issues today. Our study highlights the importance of discussing weight loss with obese women prior to pregnancy because losing weight during pregnancy may increase the risk of her baby dying."
In the U.S. 24,000 infants die annually in their first year of life, ranking it the 26th highest in the world in terms of infant deaths. This is despite a 20 percent drop in the U.S. infant mortality rate between 1990 and 2010. The rate of infant deaths in the U.S. is 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Study lead author and associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh Dr Lisa Bodnar says, "One in three women start pregnancy at an unhealthy weight and more than half of women gain either too much or too little weight during pregnancy. While more research needs to be conducted, we are hopeful that this study can be used to start a dialogue between physicians and women on the importance of not only gaining a healthy amount of weight while pregnant, but also reducing excess weight before they become pregnant as a potential way to improve infant survival."
Dr. Bodnar and her research colleagues examined records from more than 1.2 million live births from 2003 to 2011. Of that number 5,530 had died before their first birthday.
The mothers were all classified as underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. In all of the weight groups, except the most obese, gaining either less or much more than recommended weight increased the risk of infant death. The study however showed even when obese women gained the optimal weight during pregnancy, their risk of infant death was still twice as much compared to women who became pregnant at a normal weight.
Medical guidelines recommend a weight gain of 11 to 20 pounds for obese women and 25 to 35 pounds for normal-weight women during pregnancy.
Himes says, “We hope this information empowers providers, including obstetricians, family doctors and primary care physicians, to discuss the benefits of preconception weight loss with all obese, reproductive-age women."