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Obese Pregnant Women Face More Risks, Get More C Sections

scaleObese pregnant women and their babies are in significantly greater risk of complications during pregnancy and birth, said a cover story in the New York Times yesterday. There are many factors to this added risk, from health complications for the mother to more birth defects in babies, and higher mortality rates for both. This is a growing problem as the obesity rates in the  U.S. population have been increasing over time.The piece had lots to say about care for obese pregnant women, but to me, the most interesting question was this:

How much does a woman’s weight affect her chances of a C-section?

The Times piece printed a chart implying that weight may actually be a primary factor. If this is the case, it could mean that high obesity rates, rather than a general trend toward medical intervention, might be behind the growing C section rates in the U.S.The chart, which came from National Institute of Health data, lists the C section rate for normal weight women as 11%, for minorly overweight women as 18%, and for women in varying stages of obesity as 25-43%.

Ceridwen and I were up late last night trying to analyze the chart and theory, scouring the NIH site for the study that might have informed it. We couldn’t quite figure out how this data correlated with everything else we know about C sections. How does this fit with all the information we’ve heard attributing the rise in C sections to more inductions and malpractice worries? Statistics are complicated and the context isn’t clear here. Could it be that obesity is a bigger part of this puzzle than we’ve realized?

photo: Paul H./flickr

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