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Obese Pregnant Women Can Give Birth to Babies With Heart Defects

“Congenital heart defects are the most common types of birth defect, and among all birth defects, they are a leading cause of illness, death and medical expenditures.”– Dr. Edwin Trevathan, expert on birth defects and developmental disabilities, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the latest research carried out at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese women who become pregnant are 18 percent more likely to give birth to babies with heart defects. For those women who are severely obese, this percentage rises to 33 percent. This study was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and included the mothers of 6,440 babies born with congenital heart defects between the years of 1997 and 2004.
Heart Defect
What the Research Uncovered

It was found by Dr. Edwin Trevathan of the CDC that babies born from obese pregnant women had defects on the right side of the heart. These defects were found in the tissues connecting the upper two chambers of the heart. Obesity during pregnancy was assessed in the study based on the factor Body Mass Index or BMI. This is a formula doctors use to assess weight in relation to height. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9, moderate obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 to 34.9, and severe obesity is defined as a BMI of 35 or higher. Trevathan and associates found that obesity was associated with ten different types of heart defects and five of these were related exclusively to obese pregnant women.

The study involved around 5,500 telephone interviews where the mothers reported their pre-pregnancy weight, height, and various lifestyle and medical factors. For comparison, the researchers evaluated 5,673 women who delivered babies without heart defects as well. It is important to note that this study doesn’t prove that the women’s extra weight caused the babies to have heart defects but there is an association. The study accounted for several important factors such as maternal age and race-ethnicity. The mothers with Type I or II diabetes were excluded from the study, as the condition carries a strong risk factor for heart defects

Significance of the Research Findings

In July of 2009, a report was released by the CDC regarding obesity in America. According to this report, obesity is presently an epidemic in the United States with two-thirds of American adults over-weight or obese. Twenty-three states recorded an increase in the obesity rate for their citizens. Not a single state reported a decline in the obesity rate when compared to the previous year. What’s more, 49 states had an adult obesity rate above 20 percent. This is significant for those who are planning to become pregnant, mothers of unborn children, and obstetricians and pediatricians who treat women who are pregnant and obese and their babies.

Tips on Delivering a Healthy Child

Dr. Trevathan suggests that the best way to deliver a healthy child is to plan for it and take certain necessary steps before becoming pregnant. First of all, you should maintain a healthy weight. There is a definite link between maternal obesity and a class of congenital problems called neural tube defects. Now we know to add heart defects to that list as well. Another thing to do is to get enough folic acid through diet or supplement. This vitamin is necessary to prevent the rate of birth defects in children. It is also wise to avoid alcohol and smoking before and during pregnancy, as these things are linked to a spectrum of disorders in infants. Finally, you should get a checkup to allow for existing health conditions to be under control before the pregnancy begins.

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