A Weighty Matter for Those Wanting to Get Pregnant

Maternal BMI before pregnancy may be linked to child development problems

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Losing weight may need to be a priority for heavier women who are thinking about getting pregnant.

A new study found that children of women who were severely obese before pregnancy were more likely to have developmental disorders compared to children of women with normal weight.

Heejoo Jo, MPH, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA, led this study.

"We found that high prepregnancy body mass index was associated with neurodevelopmental outcomes among 6-year-old children,” Jo and team wrote.

In other words, women who were severely obese before pregnancy had a higher chance of having a baby with damaged growth or development of the brain or central nervous system.

For instance, children of women with high prepregnancy body mass index (BMI) were more likely to have neurodevelopmental disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

"These women should be counseled on healthy eating such as fresh vegetables, fruits, lean meats," said Rebecca Robert, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Grapevine, TX, in an interview with dailyRx News. "Limiting portion size is important. No sodas, no fast food. Starches should be whole grain. Weight gain for obese pregnant women should be limited to 10-15 pounds."

ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood and can be a lifelong disorder. Children with ADHD may find it harder to pay attention, control impulsive behaviors and stay still.

BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. By US standards, a BMI of 30 or above is considered obese. A BMI above 35 is considered severely obese. Jo and team focused on women with BMIs higher than 35.

"If the patient is attempting conception she should be counseled on rigorous diet and exercise to get her BMI below 30kg/m2 since obesity is also associated with decreased fertility," Dr. Robert said. "I might add that obesity is an epidemic in this country and that this problem is on the rise!"

Dr. Robert continued, "Obesity is associated with an elevated blood insulin level which can lead to a number of medical illnesses for both mother and fetus. These illnesses are as follows: gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm delivery, dysfunctional labor, macrosomic fetus, shoulder dystocia at delivery, sleep apnea, intrauterine fetal demise, deep vein thrombosis."

For this study, Jo and team used data from a national survey conducted from 2005 to 2007 on maternal and infant health. In 2012, a follow-up survey on child health and development was conducted.

A total of 1,311 mother-child pairs were studied. Jo and team found that high prepregnancy BMI was tied to neurodevelopmental problems among 6-year-old children. Children who had severely obese mothers were at a higher risk of having emotional symptoms, peer problems, difficulties with being socially appropriate and the need for disability services — compared to children who had mothers with normal weights.

Most of the study patients were white and affluent, so this study's findings may not necessarily apply to other groups of patients, Jo and team noted.

This study was published April 27 in the journal Pediatrics.

The National Institutes of Health funded this research. The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 24, 2015
Last Updated:
May 11, 2015