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Overweight Women Likely To Have Babies With Birth Defects

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Findings of a new study have found that women who are obese when they conceive have higher odds of having a baby with serious birth defects. Overweight women who are not clinically obese also have slightly higher risk of having babies with health problems in the first year of life.

Obesity Epidemic

A new study released earlier this month showed that over 2 billion children and adults worldwide are obese or overweight. The condition, often attributed to poor diet and lack of exercise, has been linked to a range of health problems which include diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Now, researchers find another unwanted impact of having unhealthy weight. They found a link between being overweight during pregnancy and heightened risk of having children with birth defects.

Mother's Weight During Pregnancy And Health Of Unborn Baby

While it has long been known that obesity raises the risk of a woman having a child with malformations that can impact the functioning of the organs and physical appearance, the new study showed a sliding scale of risk that increases as a woman's weight increased.

For the new study, researchers looked at the data of over 1.2 million live births in Sweden between 2001 and 2014. They found that 3.4 percent of the mothers with normal weight having a BMI of 18.5 to 24 had children with birth defects.

The prevalence slightly increased among overweight mothers with BMI of 25 to 29, 3.5 percent of whom bore children with birth defects. The rate of birth defects increased to 3.8 percent in obese mothers with BMI of 30 to 34. Birth defects were likewise observed to increase to 4.2 percent and 4.7 percent in women with high categories of obesity.

"Risks of any major congenital malformation and several subgroups of organ specific malformations progressively increased with maternal overweight and increasing severity of obesity," the researchers wrote in their study.

The findings of the study highlights how a mother's weight during pregnancy can affect the unborn child's health.

Advice To Pregnant Women

Study researcher Martina Persson, from Sweden's Karolinska Institute, urged women to strive for healthy weight during pregnancy. Women should be physically active and have a healthy diet while pregnant.

Because poor diet during pregnancy can impact the future health of the unborn baby, researchers advise women to aim for a healthy weight even before getting pregnant.

The findings of the study suggest that higher levels of inflammation, altered hormone levels, and insufficient delivery of nutrients through the placenta may all play a role in influencing the likelihood of a child to suffer from birth defects. Poor blood sugar control is also considered as a potential risk factor.

Overweight women have also been earlier found to be less likely to take folic acid, which is known to give protection against birth defects.

Besides higher risk for birth defect, women with weight problems also face a range of other unwanted conditions, which include stillbirth, preeclampsia and diabetes.

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