Pre-Pregnancy Obesity Could Lead to Infant Death

Recent research finds a link between obesity and infant death. The strangest part? The link exists even if you're obese before even thinking about getting pregnant.

Pre-Pregnancy Obesity Could Lead to Infant Death DementevaJulia/Shutterstock

It's no secret that obesity is an epidemic, one that's attached to so many health issues and complications. But here's something you might not know about obesity: Recent research indicates that it's linked to infant death—even if you're obese before getting pregnant.

The Boston University School of Public Health study is the largest to date that looks at the relationship between pre-pregnancy obesity/prenatal weight gain and infant mortality. By cross-referencing birth and death records against the heights and weights, the researchers found a surprising connection between the two factors.

The findings indicated that infant mortality rates increased when mothers had high BMIs. The risk of infant death was 32 percent higher for those in the obese 1 category (a classification that refers to a BMI between 30 and 34.9) and 73 percent higher in the obese 2 category (BMI between 35 and 39.9) as compared to babies born to women in the normal weight range.

According to researchers, these findings show how important it is for public health officials to address the issue of obesity and encourage women to take action well before pregnancy.

"The findings suggest that primary care clinicians, OB-GYNs and midwives need to have conversations about weight as part of well-woman care and when women are contemplating getting pregnant," study author Eugene Declercq said in the study's release. "There is a need for more open, honest discussions about avoiding the possible risks of maternal obesity on infant health."

In addition to higher pre-pregnancy BMIs, the obese women surveyed displayed lack of adherence to medical guidelines suggesting obese women gain between 11 and 20 pounds during pregnancy. But even those who did manage to stick within the recommended weight gain range still saw higher infant mortality rates if they were obese before becoming pregnant. "These findings suggest that 60-75 percent of mothers aren't following the guidelines—and even when they do, adherence does little to lower infant mortality," Declercq said.

Pre-pregnancy obesity rates have been at around 20 percent in the US in recent years and the overall obesity rate for women aged 20-39 years is 32 percent. One thing is clear: We need to do something to bring those rates down soon—this new research just makes that point even more evident.

Related: Does Childhood Obesity Start in Pregnancy?