A few years ago I was in the awkward scenario of being congratulated on my pregnancy when my rounded stomach was actually just the result of a very large sandwich. I was miles off from starting a family and I was clearly standing at the wrong angle. From that embarrassing insight into the comedy sketch that is my life, you can correctly assume that I am a plus-size woman who carries weight around her midriff. So when the magical moment of conception arrived, I was categorised as an overweight mother-to-be and had the joyful conversation with the midwife regarding the risks associated with carrying more weight than some of her other patients.
In no uncertain terms, I was hit with terrifying statistics that I would be more likely to miscarry my child. I would be more susceptible to pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, blood clots and I could potentially experience a complicated birth. Wow – they are ridiculously scary things to tell a woman who is about to embark on what is meant to be one of the most magical journeys in a woman’s life. Surely anxiety produced as a result of these horrific findings isn’t great for mother and baby either? Has it occurred to healthcare providers that maybe taking a different approach may not create panic and shame for overweight and obese mums-to-be? How about we try to discuss these increased risks rationally and maybe throw in a few expert opinions and quotes too? Let me take the lead…
Weight and obesity are still measured by the BMI system. According to health organisations, anyone with a BMI higher than 30 has an increased risk of pregnancy complications. Fact: the BMI scale does not take into account one’s body frame, bone density or muscle mass and it certainly does not reflect fitness levels, blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar levels. The BMI scale was also created in the 1940s, in a post-war era where the majority of bodies were suffering malnourishment due to rationing and thus the definition of ‘normal’ was based upon the bodies of those who had been surviving on a wartime diet. A modern study conducted in the US has found that 34.4 million Americans considered to be technically overweight or obese in BMI terms are actually perfectly healthy when based on a range of blood pressure and cholesterol health markers. They also discovered that individuals scored as ‘healthy’ on the BMI scale can actually be unhealthy when considering other clinical results. In addition to this particular study, Oxford University has stated that childbirth risks are not the same for all obese women. Dr Jennifer Hollowell goes on to say that “our study focused on women who were obese but otherwise healthy when they went into labour, and some of them had much lower risks than might have been expected.”
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The information supplied by healthcare providers is disturbingly biased towards using BMI results as gospel and not looking into individual health levels. I was beyond irritated by websites who advertised ‘great pregnancy tips for overweight women’ but they were actually just dishing out patronising diet advice; ideas on how to ‘curb your appetite’ or stay ‘fuller for longer’. Again, very presumptuous that plus-sized ladies obviously just eat a load of rubbish and stay still all day.
So rather than the usual drivel found on fat shaming media websites, here’s my summary of help and advice:
1) Get a good doctor. Discussing any medical issues regarding weight is absolutely fine but if you have a doctor who makes you feel guilty about your size, it’s time to find a more suitable one.
2) If you’re struggling to conceive, don’t assume your weight is to blame. I was diagnosed with a fertility issue (which funnily enough often causes weight gain!), but I also know many thinner people who have problems with their fertility, so make sure you have a doctor who will listen to your concerns and diagnose your body on an individual basis.
3) If you are planning for a baby, it’s worth having a look around online for some recipes which are full of baby-growing nutrients and which taste fantastic.
4) Don’t read negative publications (I’ve done that work so you don’t have to). No good will come of feeling depressed, anxious or demoralised. Good mental health throughout conception and pregnancy is incredibly important.
5) Like every single pregnant woman out there, look out for any concerning symptoms and don’t ignore them. See a doctor if you experience a dry mouth or excessive thirst, frequent urination (especially overnight), excessive tiredness, recurrent infections or blurred vision. Further along in your pregnancy, please remember to count the kicks – this is important for all pregnant women, not just plus size.
6) And most importantly – relax! Love yourself and love the little baby, YOUR little baby, that’s growing inside you and feel excited for the future family you are about to become. Treat yourself when you need it, rest whenever you can and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Pregnancy is hard work: hormones, body changes, leaking boobs and pregnancy aches and pains are just scratching the surface. No matter what size you are, this is an incredible moment in your lifetime: focus on looking after yourself and that beautiful baby.