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Pregnancy complications

  • Pregnancy complications may need special medical care.
  • Common complications include diabetes and anemia.
  • Go to all your prenatal care checkups, even if you feel fine.
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Being overweight during pregnancy

Being overweight during pregnancy can cause complications for you and your baby. The more overweight you are, the more likely you are to have pregnancy complications. But there are things you can do before and during pregnancy to help you have a healthy baby. 

How do you know if you’re overweight or obese?

Being overweight is based on your pre-pregnancy body mass index (also called BMI). Pre-pregnancy means your BMI before you get pregnant. BMI is a calculation based on your height and weight:

  • If you’re overweight, your BMI is 25.0 to 29.9 before pregnancy. Overweight means you have excess body weight that comes from your muscles, bone, fat and water. About 3 in 4 women (75 percent) in the United States are overweight. 
  • If you’re obese, your BMI is 30.0 or higher before pregnancy. Obese means you have an excess amount of body fat. About 1 in 3 women (36 percent) in the United States is obese. 

To find out your BMI, use this BMI calculator or talk to your health care provider.

What kinds of pregnancy complications can being overweight or obese cause?

Before pregnancy, if you’re overweight or obese you’re more likely than women at a healthy weight to have problems getting pregnant (also called infertility). Obesity can affect a certain kind of fertility treatment called in vitro fertilization (also called IVF). IVF is when an egg and sperm are combined in a lab to create an embryo (fertilized egg) which is then put into your uterus. The higher your BMI, the less likely it is for you to get pregnant with IVF.

If you’re overweight or obese during pregnancy, you’re more likely to have these complications:

  • High blood pressure, preeclampsia and blood clotting problems. High blood pressure is when the force of blood against the walls of the blood vessels is too high. Preeclampsia is a condition that can happen after the 20th week of pregnancy or right after pregnancy. It’s when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and signs that some of her organs, like her kidneys and liver, may not be working properly. Clotting problems are when blood clots partly or completely block the flow of blood in a blood vessel.
  • Gestational diabetes. This is a kind of diabetes that some women get during pregnancy. Diabetes is when your body has too much sugar (called glucose) in the blood. 
  • Being pregnant past your due date and problems during labor and birth, including problems with anesthesia (pain medicine). You also may need to stay in the hospital longer after having your baby than women at a healthier weight.
  • Cesarean birth (also called c-section). This is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your doctor makes in your belly and uterus (womb). If you’re obese, you’re more likely to have complications from a c-section, like an infection or losing too much blood. 
  • Miscarriage or stillbirth. Miscarriage is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Stillbirth is when a baby dies in the womb before birth but after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Trouble losing your pregnancy weight after giving birth

If you’re obese, you’re more likely to have other complications, including:

  • Have Infections during pregnancy, like urinary tract infections
  • Have sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea. This is when your breathing stops while you’re sleeping. 
  • Have a dangerous blood clot problem called venous thromboembolism (also called VTE). 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. 
  • Need to go to the hospital earlier in labor, have longer labor and need labor induction (also called inducing labor). This is when your provider gives you medicine or breaks your water (amniotic sac or bag of waters) to make your labor begin.
  • Have a cesarean birth (also called c-section). This is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your doctor makes in your belly and uterus (womb).
  • Start and keep breastfeeding

Can being overweight or obese cause problems for your baby?

Yes. If you’re overweight or obese during pregnancy, your baby is more likely to have these conditions:

  • Birth defects, including neural tube defects (also called NTDs). NTDs are birth defects of the brain and spine. A birth defect is a health condition that a baby has at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, in how the body develops, or in how the body works. It may be hard for your health care provider to diagnose birth defects during pregnancy even prenatal tests like ultrasound.
  • Macrosomia (also called large for gestational age or LGA). This means your baby weighs more than 9 pounds, 15 ounces (4,500 grams) at birth. When a baby is this large, it can cause complications during labor and birth, including injury to your baby. It also increases your chances of needing a c-section.
  • Premature birth. This is birth that happens before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. This is too soon and can cause serious health problems for your baby.
  • Diabetes, heart disease and obesity later in life

What can you do to improve your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby?

Before pregnancy, get a preconception checkup. This is a medical checkup you get before pregnancy. Your health care 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. 

During pregnancy, do these things to help keep you and your baby healthy:

  • Get early and regular prenatal care. Prenatal care is medical care you get during pregnancy. Go to every prenatal care checkup, even if you’re feeling fine. Your provider gives you prenatal tests, like a glucose screening test for diabetes and ultrasound to get a picture of your baby in the womb.  
  • Talk to your provider about how much weight to gain during pregnancy. If you’re overweight, you want to gain about 15 to 25 pounds during pregnancy. If you’re obese, your target range is 11 to 20 pounds. 
  • Eat healthy foods. Talk to your provider or a nutritionist to help you plan your meals. Check out choosemyplate.gov from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It can help you make a healthy eating plan based on your age, weight, height and physical activity. It also has a special section just for pregnant women.
  • Don’t diet. Some diets can reduce the nutrients your baby needs to grow and develop. Don’t try to stay at the same weight or lose weight during pregnancy.
  • Do something active every day. Talk to your provider about activities that are safe for you. 

Last reviewed January 2015

See also: Tracking your weight gain, Preconception health care

When to call your provider

  • If you have heavy bleeding or bleeding for more than 24 hours
  • If you have fever, chills or severe headaches
  • If you have vision problems, like blurriness
  • If you have quick weight gain or your legs and face swell

Have questions?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is mononucleosis?

Mononucleosis (also called mono) is an infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It’s sometimes caused by another virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV). EBV and CMV are part of the herpes virus family. Mono is most common in teenagers and young adults, but anyone can get it. Mono is called the “kissing disease” because it’s usually passed from one person to another through saliva. In addition to kissing, it can also be passed through sneezing, coughing or sharing pillows, drinks, straws, and toothbrushes.

You can have mono without having any symptoms. But even if you don’t get sick, you can still pass it to others. Symptoms can include:

  • Achy muscles
  • Belly pain
  • Fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands in your neck

If your symptoms don’t go away or get worse, tell your health care provider. He’ll most likely do a physical exam and test your blood to find out for sure if you have mono.

There’s no vaccine to prevent mono. There’s also no specific treatment. The best care is to take it easy and get as much rest as you can. It may take a few weeks before you fully recover.

Can Rh factor affect my baby?

The Rh factor may be a problem if mom is Rh-negative but dad is Rh-positive. If dad is Rh-negative, there is no risk.

If your baby gets her Rh-positive factor from dad, your body may believe that your baby's red blood cells are foreign elements attacking you. Your body may make antibodies to fight them. This is called sensitization.

If you're Rh-negative, you can get shots of Rh immune globulin (RhIg) to stop your body from attacking your baby. It's best to get these shots at 28 weeks of pregnancy and again within 72 hours of giving birth if a blood test shows that your baby is Rh-positive. You won't need anymore shots after giving birth if your baby is Rh-negative. You should also get a shot after certain pregnancy exams like an amniocentesis, a chorionic villus sampling or an external cephalic version (when your provider tries to turn a breech-position baby head down before labor). You'll also want to get the shot if you have a miscarriage, an ectopic pregnancy or suffer abdominal trauma.

I had a miscarriage. How long should I wait to try again?

Before getting pregnant again, it's important that you are ready both physically and emotionally. If you don't need tests or treatments to discover the cause of the miscarriage, it's usually OK for you to become pregnant after one normal menstrual cycle. However, it may take longer for you to feel emotionally ready to be pregnant again. Everyone responds differently to a miscarriage. Only you will know when you are ready to try to get pregnant again.

Are gallstones common during pregnancy?

Not common, but they do happen. Elevated hormones during pregnancy can cause the gallbladder to function more slowly, less efficiently. The gallbladder stores and releases bile, a substance produced in the liver. Bile helps digest fat. When bile sits in the gallbladder for too long, hard, solid nuggets called gallstones can form. The stones can block the flow of bile, causing indigestion and sometimes serious pain. Staying at a healthy weight during pregnancy can help lower your risk of gallstones. Exercise and eating foods that are low in fat and high in fiber, like veggies, fruits and whole grains, can help, too. Symptoms of gallstones include nausea, vomiting and intense, continuous abdominal pain. Treatment during pregnancy may include surgery to remove the gallbladder. Gallstones in the third trimester can be managed with a strict meal plan and pain medication, followed by surgery several weeks after delivery.

When to call your provider

  • If you have heavy bleeding or bleeding for more than 24 hours
  • If you have fever, chills or severe headaches
  • If you have vision problems, like blurriness
  • If you have quick weight gain or your legs and face swell

Have questions?

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