Maternal obesity

Approximately half of all women of childbearing age in England are either overweight or obese. Maternal obesity (defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or more at the first antenatal consultation) can increase health risks for both the mother and child during and after pregnancy. For mothers these risks can include gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and depression. Fetal risks include macrosomia, congenital anomalies and stillbirths. Maternal obesity has also been linked to low breastfeeding rates, adverse childhood cardiovascular and respiratory outcomes and childhood obesity.

Data on the prevalence of maternal obesity are not collected routinely in the UK, but trend data from the Health Survey for England show that the prevalence of obesity among women of childbearing age increased during the period 1997-2013. Severe obesity (a BMI of 40kg/m2 or more) among women has increased since 1993 and is predicted to rise further over the next twenty to thirty years. Severe maternal obesity is associated with greater risks of birth complications, longer postnatal stays and wound infection. Recent evidence from the UK indicates that high maternal BMI is also associated with increased health service usage and healthcare costs.

For the latest Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries/Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidance on the management of women with obesity in pregnancy click here.[https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/cmacercogjointguidelinemanagementwomenobesitypregnancya.pdf]

For the latest guidance from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on weight management before, during and after pregnancy click here.

Public Health England would like to acknowledge the help of Dr Nicola Heslehurst from Newcastle University in compiling these pages.