Obesity ramps up the risk in childbirth

Here perhaps is one clue to the conundrum of why maternal mortality in the United States is relatively high for an industrialized nation, 12.7 deaths per 100,000 births in 2007: Two thirds of the women who died giving birth in New York State between 2003 to 2005 were obese, the New York Times reported on Sunday. The Safe Motherhood Initiative provided the figure.

Obese women are more likely to hemorrhage, have high blood pressure, diabetes, anesthesia complications, blood clots and strokes during pregnancy and childbirth.

Not only that, but very obese women, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher, are three to four times more likely to experience a Caesarean section with their first baby than other as first-time mothers are, Anemona Hartocollis reports in the NYT story.

Obesity is not only hard on mothers, but it may also pose problems for their infants. Babies born to obese women are almost three times as likely to die within their first month of life than those born to women with BMIs within the normal range. Obese women are also nearly twice as likely to have a stillborn baby, Hartocollis reports.

About one in five women are obese when they become pregnant, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga. Obesity is gauged by a BMI of at least 30. A woman who stands five-foot-seven inches tall and weighs about 195 pounds has a BMI of 30.