Pre-Pregnancy Obesity Increases Birth Defect Risk: New Study | DC Metro Area Medical Malpractice Law Blog

The individual health consequences of obesity are well-established, but a recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine suggests that a pregnant woman’s obesity can jeopardize the health of her fetus, as well.  Researchers in the study found that pre-pregnancy obesity was associated with an increased incidence of birth defects — a finding with significant public health implications, as 51% of non-pregnant American women of childbearing age are classified as overweight.  Researchers determined that babies with the following seven birth defects were significantly more likely to have mothers who were obese just prior to their pregnancy:

  • “Spina bifida, a condition that occurs when part of the spinal cord is uncovered, causing incontinence and problems with mobility.
  • Heart defects.
  • Anorectal atresia, malformation of the anal opening.
  • Hypospadias, which occurs when the urethra opens on the underside instead of the end of the penis.
  • Limb reduction defects, such as small or missing toes, fingers, arms or legs.
  • Diaphragmatic hernia, or an opening in the diaphragm that allows abdominal organs to move. into the chest cavity and may cause lungs to be underdeveloped.
  • Omphalocele, in which the intestines or other abdominal organs protrude out through the navel.”

Although the link between obesity and birth defects is not well understood, researchers believe the phenomenon may be aligned with the better-understood risks of birth defects found among diabetic mothers.  They also caution that the sample size of the study was relatively small, and the study should be replicated to ensure its validity. 

Previously on the D.C. Metro Area Medical Malpractice Law Blog, we have posted articles related to:

  • First-trimester screening for Down Syndrome
  • ACOG warns against Paxil during pregnancy
  • Medical induction of labor doubles the risk of embolism

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