Heavy labor: Obesity and pregnancy are a dangerous mix

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Too many American women who wouldn't dream of smoking a cigarette or downing a shot of alcohol during pregnancy nonetheless are putting themselves and their babies in danger by failing to respond to the nation's health crisis of obesity.

The damaging effects of being overweight are well known and include diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, some cancers, sleep apnea and strain on backs, knees and ankles. Obesity affects men, women and children, and today two-thirds of Americans are overweight and one in three is obese. The price of related health care is estimated at an astonishing $147 billion a year, more than 9 percent of the nation's annual medical bill.

Research suggests that babies and their mothers are paying, sometimes with their lives. The New York Times reported last week that one in five women are obese when they become pregnant, which medical research suggests might explain a record-high rate of Caesarean deliveries, long-term health problems and even death. The report said that babies whose mothers were obese were nearly three times as likely to die within the first month of life as children whose mothers were not overweight.

Naturally, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC sees a high rate of high-risk pregnancies. Dr. Hyagriv Simhan, its director of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and a specialist in such cases, said the actual delivery of babies is more complicated when the mothers are obese. Most people don't realize how much more risky and difficult surgery, including C-section deliveries, are when the patient is obese. He said younger women seeking bariatric surgery for weight loss frequently say their decision to have surgery is motivated by their desire to have a child.

The best advice doctors offer is that women should lose weight before becoming pregnant. When that doesn't occur, it is even more important for those women to watch their diets and exercise regularly during pregnancy.

Motherhood can be a lifetime of giving up something for the sake of one's child. Pregnancy is a 40-week trial run and a good time to start.


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