Overweight and Obesity
Overweight and Obesity

Overweight and Obesity Obesity and Women's Health

Women are slightly more likely (40%) than men (35%) to have obesity. Obesity specifically affects some different aspects of women’s health.

  • Fertility: Women who have obesity are more likely to have problems getting pregnant than are women who are at a healthy weight.
  • Lifetime hormonal changes: Obesity changes reproductive hormone levels as women age.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is the most common hormone disorder among women of childbearing age (between about age 15 and 45). Most women with PCOS also have obesity.
  • Disease risk: Women with obesity are more likely to have heart disease, diabetes, and breast cancer than are women without obesity.

Pregnancy risks and complications

Having obesity can affect your health and increase the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Having obesity before pregnancy or gaining too much weight during pregnancy can raise the risk of preterm birth and a baby that is larger than gestational age (larger than they should be at that week of pregnancy). This can lead to problems during delivery for the mother and baby. It can also affect the future health of your child. Talk to your provider about how much weight you should plan to gain during your pregnancy. They can help you set a goal based on your pre-pregnancy BMI.

Several health problems are more common in pregnant women who have obesity. They can cause serious complications during pregnancy.

  • Gestational diabetes is typically diagnosed after 20 weeks of pregnancy or close to delivery. It makes it hard for your body to properly break down and store energy from food, causing high levels of glucose in your blood. This can affect both you and your developing baby.
  • Gestational hypertension is high blood pressure that starts during the second half of pregnancy.
  • Preeclampsia is a combination of high blood pressure during pregnancy with signs that your organs are not working well, such as high protein levels in your urine. It can lead to life-threatening seizures.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea happens when your throat muscles relax and you temporarily stop breathing while sleeping. This disrupts your brain’s healthy sleep rhythms and can leave you exhausted upon waking. It can be fatal if severe and not treated.

Your provider will monitor you closely during pregnancy. You should also watch for warning signs of problems, such as high blood pressure, during and after pregnancy. Some warning signs are a worsening headache, overwhelming tiredness, dizziness, trouble breathing, chest or belly pain, swelling, or nausea. If you feel like something is wrong, get medical care right away.

Learn what you can do before, during, and after pregnancy to protect your health, especially your heart health, and look up questions to ask your provider on our Heart Health and Pregnancy page.

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