Overweight mums lead to boom in big babies

Expectant mums' sugar intake is being linked to the increasing number of 'big' babies being born. Picture: Getty
Expectant mums' sugar intake is being linked to the increasing number of 'big' babies being born. Picture: Getty
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A BOOM in the number of overweight pregnant women in the Lothians is leading to a rise in oversized babies.

NHS Lothian figures reveal 168 babies weighing 10lbs or more were born in the region last year – with some tipping the scales at more than 12lbs.

Unfortunately we live in a culture that still celebrates big, fat babies, but to have a big, fat baby is actually terrible as it can lead to an overweight or obese child.

Tam Fry

That’s treble the average number born each year in the decade between 2003 and 2013 when a total of around 500 oversized babies were born.

Babies weighing 9lbs 14oz or more are considered oversized – or macrosomic – by medical authorities in Scotland.

Health experts warn women who are overweight or obese can give birth to heavier babies because the foetus receives more sugar through the placenta. They say overweight mums are at an increased risk of having a complicated pregnancy, including developing maternal diabetes, which affects around one in 20 pregnancies and can lead to a baby being born too large.

Oversized babies are at increased risk of stillbirth, getting stuck during delivery, and having a lifetime of health complications, including heart disease and diabetes.

Of the 168 macrosomic babies born in the Lothians last year, around half were delivered by caesarian section and one in eight by assisted forceps delivery – methods which can lead to increased health risks for both the mother and unborn child.

Gillian Smith, director for the Royal College of Midwives in Scotland, said bigger babies put increased pressure on midwives and doctors.

“The whole obesity thing is a big challenge, we need to get the message out there that if you are going to have a baby, you need to be a healthy weight before you start getting pregnant,” she said.

“In Scotland there has generally been a rise in big babies and there is no doubt that the rate of caesarian sections is also increasing. Unfortunately having a C-section can set a precedent for future pregnancies.

“There is also a higher stillbirth rate in pregnancies that follow on from a caesarian.

“There is no doubt that bigger babies put extra pressure, not just on midwives, but also on paediatricians, anaesthetists and obstetricians.”

Professor Naveed Sattar, NHS clinician and professor of metabolic medicine, said: “Pregnancy is a stress test of the body’s metabolism and 
predominately, gestational diabetes is caused by higher levels of obesity in younger women.

“If the mum develops diabetes, high sugar levels can cross the placenta and enter the fetus, producing insulin, which then acts as a growth factor for the baby.”

Edinburgh’s heaviest new baby in 2015 weighed 12lb 9oz.

Frances McGuire, acting chief midwife for NHS Lothian, said: “We offer advice in the early stages of pregnancy about the importance of diet and of taking regular exercise.

“We also offer specialist services to mums with diabetes whose baby may be at risk.”

‘Culture celebrates big, fat babies’

IT’S not just mums and babies in NHS Lothian dealing with the potential health problems caused by obesity in pregnancy.

Around the rest of Scotland, health boards are reporting oversized babies being born to overweight mothers.

The country’s biggest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, recorded 236 macrosomic babies born in 2014-15, with the biggest weighing in at a whopping 12lbs 3oz.

Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said obesity was becoming a “national crisis”.

He said: “Unfortunately we live in a culture that still celebrates big, fat babies, but to have a big, fat baby is actually terrible as it can lead to an overweight or obese child.

“From school age onward, girls should be told that when they enter a pregnancy they need to be a good healthy weight.”

newsen@edinburghnews.com