Obesity and Birth Defects

by Lori Sciame January 17th, 2020 | Health Observance
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pregnantWhat a woman weighs does matter – not so much to conform to society’s definition of beauty – but to ensure a positive birth outcome. Scientists and other health professionals don’t know exactly why, but babies born to women who can be categorized as obese have a higher incidence of birth defects. No mother wants to burden her child with health problems that could have been prevented, so it follows that those wishing to become pregnant should strive for a healthy weight before conceiving.  Exercise can help a woman obtain this important goal.

The Problem

Information provided in a February, 2009 Time magazine article explains women who are heavy “…before pregnancy were more than twice as likely to have an infant with spina bifida, nearly twice as likely to have a baby with other neural-tube defects, and more vulnerable to giving birth to babies with heart problems, cleft palate or cleft lip, abnormal rectum or anus development, and hydrocephaly, a condition in which excess spinal fluid builds up in the brain.”  The  article further suggests that the defects may result from undiagnosed diabetes in the mother, a poor diet in the mother, or screening problems due to excess fat deposits surrounding the womb.

The Solution

In a perfect world, a woman who wants to have a child will discuss her health status with her physician before becoming pregnant.  During this visit, the doctor recommends steps for the mother-to-be to take to ensure a healthy birth.  These steps can encompass following a healthy diet, taking supplements, quitting smoking and drinking, reducing stress, cutting out caffeine, and getting enough sleep.  In addition, any woman deemed as obese would be advised to lose weight by exercising.

Exercise Options

A physician can be a great resource for discussing what types of exercise to participate in to lose unwanted pounds.  Some time tested methods, such as walking, can benefit almost any woman.  Jogging, swimming, bicycling, also offer ways to burn unwanted calories.  As with any exercise plan, a woman should begin slowly and work her way up in intensity.  And instead of wishing for instantaneous weight reduction, budget up to a year for optimum results.  Remember, slow and steady weight loss beats too rapid of weight loss any day.

Overweight and Already Pregnant?

Sometimes a pregnancy isn’t planned.  What happens if an obese woman finds out she is pregnant?  The first thing she needs to do is visit a doctor as soon as possible.  A woman should never skip prenatal visits, and it is that much more important for an overweight woman to see her doctor often during a pregnancy.  Good care before a child is born DOES make a difference.


Although all birth defects can not be prevented, many can be.  By preparing for a healthy pregnancy, a couple can increase the chances their child will be born completely healthy. If a woman is obese, she should speak to her doctor about exercise and diet options to reach an appropriate weight before conceiving.


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All health and medical information is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to replace the medical advice or treatment of your healthcare professional.