Midwives have welcomed research which suggests women should aim to be a ‘normal body weight’ before conception, as obesity may lead to birth defects in babies.
Research from the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published on 15 June said that risks of ‘major birth defects’ progressively increase with a mother’s obesity severity. The report was welcomed by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
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Adult and childhood obesity was described by the RCM as a ‘major problem in the UK’, increasing the risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
The study found that 43,550 babies (3.5% of all births) had major congenital malformations. In mothers in the healthy weight range, there was a 3.4% risk of defects. The risk was 3.5% for overweight mothers, rising 3.8% for obese mothers, to 4.2% and 4.7% for more obese women.
The categories were based on body mass index (BMI), with a healthy weight defined as between 18.5 and 24, overweight being 25 to 29, and obese being 30 or over.
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RCM director for England Jacque Gerrard said: ‘This study builds on previous research about the impact of being overweight or obese on the developing baby. Healthcare professionals have a role in informing women and their families about the risks.
‘In particular midwives are ideally placed to support and advise women about healthy eating and weight gain during pregnancy. We also know that this is best received where the midwife has already formed a positive relationship with women.
‘There is a need for greater priority to be placed on prevention interventions including giving women evidence based information, education and also support for women and their families, about the benefits of healthy eating before and during pregnancy, and taking appropriate exercise.’
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The RCM called for greater emphasis on pre-conceptual care, with more effort and resources poured into reducing obesity in the general population and in women planning to have babies.
Mr Gerrard also pointed to ‘evidence-based information, education and support’ for women and families as key to preventing obesity in mothers.