Writer Klara Donovan shares the truth about being plus sized and being pregnant.
She shares the honest truth, hard facts and says the science doesn’t lie. Being overweight is not the healthiest choice if you can avoid it.
When my husband and I decided to start our family, I knew that our situation might be a little bit complicated. You see, I carry a lot of extra weight. I’m plus sized. Though I tried to shift some kilos before falling pregnant, the results were negligible. Of course I launched myself into the throes of Googling and found myself Googling the phrase: “Overweight and pregnant”.
I found articles outlining the risks (higher chance of miscarriage, higher likelihood of gestational diabetes, higher chance of birth complications, higher blood pressure etc.) but I also found parenting forum after parenting forum filled with “been there, done that” posts from women who were my size, and even larger. Most of these posts happily proclaimed that their pregnancies and births were complication-free, that their experiences were even smoother than those of a smaller healthier friend, that the extra weight wasn’t even a factor. Buoyed up by their words, I threw caution to the wind and we went for it.
I know there’s a lot of support for body confidence right now. “Love your body the way it is!” “You don’t need to change!” “Your body is beautiful and capable!” “There’s nothing wrong with being overweight!” Now, of course I am against fat-shaming (it’s unproductive bullying and solves nothing), but I am just as much against fat-enabling. I feel I can get away with such a statement given my own generous waistline. I can be as confident and happy as I like about my looks but that doesn’t change the fact that science confirms to us that extra weight is unhealthy. Truthfully, I am here to share that although I had a relatively textbook pregnancy and delivered a healthy baby boy, my weight was very much a factor throughout those nine months.
Stuff body confidence. Being overweight and pregnant is not all sunshine and roses. Do you think any of my doctors or midwives turned to each other and said, “The important thing is that she feels good about herself”? Hell no. I had emotional, social and medical impacts for my weight – here are just some of the ways that my sky-high BMI affected my pregnancy:
I didn't look pregnant
Unless you knew that I was up the duff, you would be forgiven for wondering whether I was just fatter than usual. I saw lots of people day-to-day at my job, and I think there was some genuine surprise when I suddenly disappeared to go on maternity leave. Also, when I sat in the priority seat on the train toward the end of my pregnancy, I looked less pitifully-exhausted-expectant-mother and more fat-girl-who’s-just-exhausted-from-being-fat.
Ultrasounds and Dopplers
It’s not easy for an ultrasound to properly show a tiny, lime-sized baby tucked away under a big heaving belly. It can also be difficult finding the baby’s heartbeat with a Doppler – which can create a bit of panic if you’re early on and haven’t felt any movement yet. It can also see you having more ‘internals’ that ‘externals’ not disastrous but not delightful either.
Due to my weight, I was too high-risk to deliver at the local hospital. Instead my delivery and all my appointments were booked at a bigger hospital a half-hour drive away. Convenient.#not.
Increased/inaccurate fundal measurement
I set off major panic in a midwife who, at my 28-week appointment, declared that my fundal measurement was 40+ weeks and I was obviously growing a massive baby. Apparently I would need constant growth monitoring throughout the rest of the pregnancy, they would have to induce me early, the baby was going to struggle to breathe and this was the worst possible thing ever and OMG why wasn’t I panicking?! Lady, I was just fat. The first growth scan she ordered easily revealed that my baby was a very average size. But the deed was done; the scans had been ordered, and so I had to keep fronting up every couple of weeks for yet another scan to tell me that my baby was just fine.
My pregnancy was fairly textbook… until it wasn’t. At 38 weeks, I was diagnosed with preeclampsia. There are many risk factors for preeclampsia, one of them being – you guessed it – obesity. The decision was made to induce labour. Can I be sure they were related? No. But one plus one equals two, right?
Internal monitors during labour
My belly was too prominent for the strap-on heart-rate and ultrasound monitors to do their work during labour, and so I was blessed with not one, but TWO internal measuring devices – long needles that had to be stuck up my hoo-ha and into my cervix and my son’s head. The placement of them hurt like a bitch. I thought I was going to die. And then my son’s heart rate monitor popped out and had to be replaced three times. THREE TIMES. It was almost too much. And then it was all for nothing, because my induced contractions put him in distress and we had to move to a caesarean.
Caesareans are rough to recover from in normal circumstances, but when you have a big belly hanging over your incision and rubbing it constantly, that adds extra complications. Keeping it clean and dry is difficult, so it is seriously prone to infection.
Ladies, if there’s a lot more of you to love, I’m not telling you that you HAVE TO lose the extra kilos before getting pregnant. Losing weight is HARD and sometimes we can’t put off our family plans. But you shouldn’t go in blind either. Extra weight inevitably causes extra complications somewhere along the line, I know it did for me. Sure, your body is beautiful and capable. But mine was unhealthy and seriously set me back. Whatever you decide I wish you a happy and healthy pregnancy!
What the doctors say on pregnancy and obesity:
Dr Penny Sheehan and Prof Helena Parkington via The Royal Women’s Hospital:
Over the past 20 years, the prevalence of obesity has risen dramatically worldwide. Recent findings show that 52%of Australian women are overweight or obese* including 35% of women aged 25-35 years of age+. As a result of the increase in obesity in these reproductive years, the prevalence of obesity in pregnancy is also rising. Increased complications of labour and delivery are linked to obesity in pregnancy. Maternal obesity has been found to slow cervical dilatation and increase the risk of prolonged labour. Obese pregnant women have higher rates of medical interventions around labour and birth including higher rates of induction for prolonged pregnancy and higher rates of Caesarean section as a result of failure to progress in labour.
You can also reference the Queensland Health Study here on pregnancy and obesity.
You might also like to take a look at the Government’s guidelines for recommended weight gain during pregnancy. For example, for women who fall into the ‘obese’ BMI category, it is recommended they only gain five to nine kilograms.
A NOTE FROM MUM CENTRAL: For more information on pregnancy and obesity please see your healthcare professional. Thank you to Kara for sharing her brave and honest account of her own pregnancy.