Women with a body-mass index between 30 and 35 were 58 percent more likely than those at a healthy weight to deliver an extremely premature baby, a team of U.S. and Swedish researchers found after examining the medical and delivery records of 1,599, 551 Swedish moms. Pregnant women with a BMI between 35 and 40 were twice as likely as normal-weight moms to have an extremely premature baby, while those with BMIs of 40 or greater were nearly three times as likely to deliver an extremely premature baby.
"When a baby is born earlier than it should be born, the potential for all the organs not being fully developed is increased," said Karen Cooper, director of Healthy Expectations, a program at the Cleveland Clinic that helps women lose weight before they become pregnant. The program also helps obese pregnant women such as Bufford make healthier lifestyle choices so they might minimize the risks to their babies.
"When it comes to being obese and being pregnant, the risk factors for things going wrong multiply very quickly," Cooper told NBC News. "Along with that comes gestational diabetes, hypertension, and preeclampsia, which can eventually lead to eclampsia, which is a condition where seizures occur."
A premature baby may need a ventilator to help with breathing and nutrients fed through an IV tube, said Dr. Sandra McCalla, director of obstetrics at the Maimonides Medical Center. Further, prematurity can put a baby at risk for future problems, McCalla said.
More than half of American women of reproductive age are overweight or obese, said Cooper. But dieting during pregnancy is not the solution to maternal obesity.
"We just really encourage them to have a healthy lifestyle," Cooper said. "We put together exercise activities per the individual mom and a calorie plan specific to the mom to have them gain an appropriate amount of weight."
Image: Overweight pregnant woman, via Shutterstock