Can Obesity Cause Mental Health Problems During Pregnancy?

Obesity is an important global health problem. This is becoming more and more common globally.

As a result, obesity is becoming more prevalent during pregnancy than ever before.

For example, in the UK and USA, about 1 in 5 (20%) pregnant women are obese at the beginning of pregnancy.

What is Body Mass Index (BMI)?

BMI is a measurement of the body weight (‘mass’) with respect to the person’s height. This is to work out if the body weight is in the range for good health.

During pregnancy, the initial pre-pregnancy weight (‘Booking BMI’) is used to make all the decisions.

BMI is described in the form of kg/m2 .

The BMI is interpreted as the following:

<18.5 kg/m2: Underweight

18.5 – 24.9 kg/m2: Normal BMI (healthy weight)

25 – 29.9 kg/m2: Overweight

30 kg/m2 or above: Obese or obesity

What is obesity?

When a person’s BMI is 30 kg/m2 or above, this is defined as obesity.

Obesity is classified into three types:

30 – 34.9 kg/m2: Type 1 Obesity

35 – 39.9 kg/m2: Type 2 Obesity

40 kg/m2 or above: Severe obesity

Obesity can lead to the following pregnancy complications:

1) Gestational Diabetes

2) Preeclampsia

3) Premature (preterm) birth

4) More risks of birth defects (such as heart deformity or neural tube defects)

5) Stillbirth

6) Macrosomia (large birth weight of the baby) increasing the risks of birth injury and shoulder dystocia.

Perinatal Mental Health & Obesity

1) Antenatal depression:

Research has shown that depression during pregnancy (antenatal depression) is approximately 40% more common in obese women during pregnancy compared to those who have normal body weight.

2) Postnatal depression:

30% increased risk of postnatal depression.

Studies have shown that the higher the BMI at the beginning of the pregnancy, the greater is the risk of antenatal and postnatal depression.

3) Increased antenatal anxiety

4) Other mental health conditions:

Some evidence to suggest increased risks of antenatal anxiety, bipolar disorder and binge eating disorder.

Excessive Weight Gain during Pregnancy

Apart from obesity, excess weight gain during pregnancy can lead to pregnancy complications, body image issues and perinatal mental health problems.

For example, this can increase the risk of postnatal depression both in obese and normal-weight pregnant women.

About 46% of pregnant women gain excessive weight outside the recommended range. Therefore, this could be a substantial problem.

Depression during pregnancy can lead to unhealthy eating habits and may lead to excessive weight gain.