Women who are obese before becoming pregnant have a higher risk of giving birth to babies with congenital defects, such as missing limbs or underdeveloped spinal cords, according to researchers at the University of Texas, at Houston’s School of Public Health. The study, the largest of its kind, reveals a strong correlation between pre-pregnancy body mass index and certain birth defect risks. The scientists interviewed over 10,000 women whose babies were born with birth defects between 1997 and 2002. When these women were compared to 4,000 women who’d given birth to babies without defects during the same period of time, it was discovered that seven birth defects were more likely to arise when the mothers were obese; these included heart defects, spina bifida (incomplete brain development or development of spinal cord), limb reduction defects (e.g., small or missing toes, fingers, arms, or legs), and diaphragmatic hernia (a diaphragm opening that can lead to underdeveloped lungs).
Researchers were quick to note that while obese women have a higher risk of having babies with certain birth defects, the causes cannot decisively be linked to their weight, but may also have something to do with diet and lifestyle choices, or genetic factors. While women should be of a healthy weight not only for themselves but also for a healthy pregnancy, the researchers recommend that women don’t try fad diets, but rather, maintain a healthy, balanced diet at all times.