Overweight Moms More Likely to Give Birth to Child with Cerebral Palsy


A new study has linked overweight moms to a greater chance of giving birth to a child with cerebral palsy.

The massive study looked at more than 1.4 million children born at full term. “Maternal overweight and obesity are associated with increased risks of preterm delivery, asphyxia-related neonatal complications, and congenital malformations, which in turn are associated with increased risks of cerebral palsy,” the authors wrote.

Credit: Eran + Aubs/Vimeo

Published in JAMA, an international team of researchers from University of Michigan and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden looked at women who bore one child at a time (as opposed to twins, triplets, etc.).

“Rates of cerebral palsy were positively associated with low maternal education, non-Nordic origin, not cohabitating with a partner, primiparity or multiparity, short maternal stature, smoking during pregnancy, and maternal diabetic or hypertensive diseases,” the authors wrote. “Rates of cerebral palsy increased with male sex, decreasing length of gestation, instrumental or traumatic delivery, birth weight for gestational age less than 10th or more than the 97th percentile, neonatal infections and congenital malformations (including chromosomal abnormalities and circulatory malformations).”

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While the authors aren’t certain exactly why overweight women are more likely to give birth to babies with cerebral palsy, one theory is that these babies are more prone to asphyxia-related complications. Asphyxia is when a newborn infant is deprived of oxygen so long during birth that the brain is damaged.

Some children with cerebral palsy need physical therapy as they grow to increase muscle performance. Credit: Lee Health/Vimeo

While the impact of a mother’s weight on asphyxia-related complications during delivery is small compared to other factors, “The number of women with a BMI of 35 or more globally doubled from approximately 50 to 100 million from 2000 to 2010,” the authors wrote. “In the United States, approximately half of all pregnant women have overweight (body mass index of 25 to 29.9) or obesity (BMI of 30 or more) at the first prenatal visit. Considering the high prevalence of obesity and the continued rise of its most severe forms, the finding that maternal overweight and obesity are related to rates of cerebral palsy in a dose-response manner may have serious public health implications.”

Several risks come with being overweight during pregnancy, per the March of Dimes. Women face problems with blood pressure, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, need for use of pain medicine, Cesarean delivery, miscarriage or stillbirth, infections, sleep apnea, and a dangerous blood clot condition called venous thromboembolism (VTE).

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“This is when a blood clot breaks off and travels through your blood to organs like the brain, lungs or heart. This can cause a stroke or heart attack,” the March of Dimes says of VTE.

“Before pregnancy, get a preconception checkup,” the March of Dimes advises women. “This is a medical checkup you get before pregnancy. Your healthcare provider can help you find ways to eat healthy and be physically active to help you lose weight before you get pregnant. Losing weight before pregnancy is good for both you and your baby. If you’re thinking about weight-loss surgery, talk to your provider about your options and how long to wait after the surgery before you get pregnant.”

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”