Maternal obesity prior to pregnancy associated with birth defects

Mothers of babies born with some structural birth defectsincluding missing limbs, malformed hearts and underdeveloped spinal cordsappear more likely to be obese prior to becoming pregnant than mothers whose children are born without such defects, according to a report in the August issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Overweight and obese women are known to be at risk for chronic diseases, infertility, irregular menstruation and complications during pregnancy, according to background information in the article. In 2003 and 2004, about 51 percent of women aged 20 to 39 were classified as overweight or obese.

D. Kim Waller, Ph.D., of the University of Texas, Houston, and colleagues interviewed 10,249 women in eight states whose babies were born with birth defects between 1997 and 2002. The women were contacted between six weeks and 24 months after the babys birth and asked for their height and weight before pregnancy, along with other demographic and medical information. These women were compared with 4,065 women who had babies without birth defects during the same time period.

Mothers of babies with the following seven of 16 birth defects were more likely to be obese than mothers of infants without birth defects:

  • 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

Contact: David Bates
JAMA and Archives Journals

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