Is being an obese pregnant mother just as damaging as smoking or drinking whilst pregnant?

It is common knowledge that smoking and drinking alcohol in excess can lead to damaging effects during pregnancy, parents are warned of the risks involved throughout and before the birth of their child. In 2003 the Royal College of Midwives recognised it is the midwives duty to provide help and information to pregnant women who smoke. They introduced a guide on how to help mothers quit smoking, the guide faces issues such as how to approach the mother about smoking and how to encourage them to stop smoking. Smoking can increase the chances of a spontaneous abortion, placenta praevia and also a low birth weight. Low birth weight can also cause diseases and disabilities later on such as heart problems, respiratory infections and it has also been linked to slow cognitive development (Health Committee Parliament Great Britain House of Commons, 2005).

There are also many reasons why women are advised not to drink alcohol whilst pregnant as it can also cause damaging effects to the unborn child. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol the alcohol easily reaches the foetus, consuming an equal amount of alcohol to the mother in their blood stream. Due to the foetus bodily functions being so small and immature it cannot detoxify as quick as the mother can, so the alcohol remains in the bloodstream of the baby for a longer period of time. This puts the baby at risk of mental and physical defects such as foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) which can cause the baby to be born handicapped and in need of long term care. The list of drinking too much alcohol whilst pregnant is endless, some are the same as smoking, others include organ deformities, slow growth development and poor co-ordination (Edlin & Golanty, 2011).

Lynne (2004) suggested that women who are obese will have a higher risk of complications during pregnancy such as hypertensive diagnoses and gestational diabetes. There will also be complications during the delivery of the baby, they may need a caesarean section and time of delivery can also be prolonged. Bhattacharya et al (2007) conducted a retrospective cohort study focusing on pregnant women at a range of different weights categorised according to body mass index (BMI). They looked at women in Aberdeen between 1976 and 2005 to see if there were any relationships between obesity and pregnancy complications. Results found that women in the morbidly obese category were of highest risk of pre-eclampsia and underweight women the lowest. Morbidly obese women were also more likely to have an induced labour than any other category. They were also highest in emergency caesareans and more likely to have a postpartum haemorrhage. The heaviest baby was also found in the morbidly obese category and the lightest in the underweight. Results concluded that underweight women had better pregnancy outcomes than women with a normal BMI.

Obesity in relation to pregnancy should be tackled more seriously, smoking and alcohol interventions are already in place however, obesity is seen as less harmful. As evidence suggests not only are obese women having more complicated births which are coming at a high cost but they are also having overweight babies. Some of which are gaining a preference over the food they eat when born, in a way some of these babies are being born with unhealthy schemas.

Health Committee Parliament Great Britain House of Commons (2005). The Government’s Public Health White Paper (CM6374): Written Evidence, Medical, The Stationary Office, 204-205.

Edlin, G., &, Golanty, E. (2011). Human Sexuality: The Basics, Psychology, Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Lynne, Y. (2004). Effects of obesity on women’s reproduction and complications during pregnancy, Obesity reviews, (5), 3, 137-143, doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2004.00147.x

Bhattacharya, S., Campbell, D. M., Liston, W. A., &, Bhattacharya, S. (2007). Effect of Body Mass Index on pregnancy outcomes in nulliparous women delivering singleton babies, BMC Public Health, (7) 168, doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-168.


6 thoughts on “Is being an obese pregnant mother just as damaging as smoking or drinking whilst pregnant?

  1. I like how you had information about both alcohol and cigarette use and obesity as well as using evidence to back both points up. Health issues in general can seriously harm the development of healthy children. What the mother eats and intakes during pregnancy and to a certain extent before pregnancy helps to shape the child that comes out of the womb. If the mother is in good physical condition then the probability of having a healthy child is quite high. In most cases, a mother’s health is directly related to the child’s health. Therefore, it is important that there is more health campaigns and information given to young people about the effects of obesity and drug use on a babies life before they are pregnant. Media campaigns often target the one’s who are already pregnant and will struggle to lose weight or quit use of drugs and this is a serious problem. With children who have a psychological addiction to drugs through their mother’s addiction during gestation, effects will be much more prevalent after birth. However complications of obesity in young children are often continued throughout childhood due to the unhealthy nutrition in the household as the mother who is obese will expose the child to fatty foods whereas the mother smoking or drinking is likely not to expose the child directly to the harmful effects. In some ways, this makes the obesity problem even more serious than drinking or tobacco problem as it is a constant battle throughout childhood and later life.

  2. Most women can have a successful pregnancy no matter what their size but obesity brings its challenges. Thornburg (2011) says that vitamin deficiency is a major issue that bigger women can face in pregnancy. 40% are deficient in iron, 24% in folic acid and 4% in B12. Certain vitamins are very important before conception as they lower the risk of cardiac problems and spinal defects in newborns.

    A study by Picciotto (2012) involved 1000 children in California aged between 2– 5 years. The mother’s medical records were examined and researchers reviewed the link between obesity and autism. The results found that the mothers who were obese during pregnancy were 67% more likely to have a child with autism and there was twice the risk of developmental delays. Overall I think that obesity is just as much as problem during pregnancy as smoking and drinking.
    sorry about posting the comment before, please can you delete the first one!

  3. As you identified, obesity, drinking and smoking can all be damaging during pregnancy. However one factor not mentioned which pregnant women are likely to go through at least once during their pregnancy is stress. It was found that babies exposed to the highest levels of cortisol during their development had lower IQs at 18 months. levels of the stress hormone cortisol would cross the placenta causing this damaging effect.
    Professor Glover identified that around a million children in the UK have neurodevelopmental problems – ADHD, cognitive delay, anxiety etc and believes that about 15% of this might be due to antenatal stress.
    Unlike obesity, drinking and smoking, stress is a very hard thing to control and stop, as stress in an emotional reaction often due to factors outside of an individuals control.

    Stress ‘harms brain in the womb’ (2007) found on

  4. Obesity, drinking and smoking are all very hard to control and stop as well as stress. They are often also ways of dealing with stress, but become addictions. There could also be other reasons to why the babies in the study you explained had lower IQ’s, for example they may have just developed slower than others and if this were the case a longitudinal study would be a good way of measuring their continuing development.

  5. Being overweight will not damage your unborn child’s brain and development, but smoking and drinking could. Talk with your doctor if you are a smoker or drinker to learn ways to deal with stress and addiction so your child will be born healthy.

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