Women warned about risks of being overweight during pregnancy


Many pregnant women are unaware that they are overweight or obese, and of the risks this poses to their pregnancy, according to the results of a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA).

Associate Professor Leonie Callaway, of the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospitals and the University of Queensland’s School of Medicine, and her co-authors surveyed 412 women in early pregnancy who attended a public antenatal clinic or were patients of a private obstetrician.

The survey found 30 per cent of the women had been overweight or obese before pregnancy. However, 36 per cent of the women who were overweight categorised themselves as being of normal weight. Only 16 per cent of women with a BMI in the obese range categorised themselves as obese. 

“This may result in women having an inaccurate picture of the potential risk that their weight adds to a future pregnancy. It is also possible that obesity is now so common it is perceived as normal,” Assoc Prof Callaway said.

Despite 57 per cent of the overweight and obese women having a preconception health check with a doctor, only 17 per cent of the overweight and obese women recalled being advised by a doctor to lose weight.

“Our findings highlight the importance of calculating BMI and advising women about the increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes associated with overweight and obesity when they present for preconception care,” Assoc Prof Callaway said.

The results of another study, co-authored by Dr Alexis Shub of the Mercy Hospital for Women in Melbourne and the University of Melbourne’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and published in the same issue of the MJA, found that regular weight measurement during pregnancy was not effective in reducing weight gain, except among women who were overweight but not obese before pregnancy.

In an accompanying editorial in the MJA, Professor Marc Keirse, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Flinders University, said excessive weight could make conception difficult and was linked to pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and operative delivery. It was also linked to increased risk of miscarriage, congenital malformations, stillbirth and perinatal death.

Prof Keirse said weight loss during pregnancy was not advisable; attention to weight (and weight loss) needed to shift to well before pregnancy.

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

The statements or opinions that are expressed in the MJA  reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA unless that is so stated.

Professor Marc Keirse            
08 8204 4471 / 08 8178 0116

Dr Leonie Callaway           
0408 183 441 / 07 3346 5273

Ms Naomi Ford               
0412 557 831
Public Affairs Manager Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital

Dr Alexis Shub               
0402 808 440 / 03 98532645

Mr Patrick McClelland
0409 499 419
Media Unit, the Mercy Hospital