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Obesity and Pregnancy

1 Contact Hour
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This peer reviewed course is applicable for the following professions:
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), Certified Nurse Midwife, Certified Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN), Midwife (MW), Nursing Student, Registered Nurse (RN), Registered Nurse Practitioner
This course will be updated or discontinued on or before Monday, September 30, 2024

Nationally Accredited

CEUFast, Inc. is accredited as a provider of nursing continuing professional development by the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation. ANCC Provider number #P0274.


Participants will understand how to care for the obese pregnant woman.


After completing this continuing education course, the participant will be able to:

  1. Identify why maternal obesity is a pregnancy risk.
  2. List ways that obesity can impact the woman during pregnancy.
  3. Identify how obesity can impact the fetus during pregnancy and delivery.
  4. Identify how obesity can affect the woman and child after birth.
  5. List ways the woman can improve her health outcomes.
  6. Plan care of the obese woman in labor and delivery.
CEUFast Inc. and the course planners for this educational activity do not have any relevant financial relationship(s) to disclose with ineligible companies whose primary business is producing, marketing, selling, re-selling, or distributing healthcare products used by or on patients.

Last Updated:
To earn of certificate of completion you have one of two options:
  1. Take test and pass with a score of at least 80%
  2. Reflect on practice impact by completing self-reflection, self-assessment and course evaluation.
    (NOTE: Some approval agencies and organizations require you to take a test and self reflection is NOT an option.)
Author:    Kelly LaMonica (DNP(c), MSN, RNC-OB, EFM)


According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 33.4% of women 20 to 34 years of age are obese, and 58.4% are overweight (ACOG, 2015). Obesity is a commonly overlooked medical problem in pregnant women. Obese women have increased risks for maternal and perinatal complications (Ramsey and Schenken, 2019). Up to 25% of all pregnancy complications such as gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and preterm birth may be related to maternal obesity (Ramsey and Schenken, 2019).

Risks During Pregnancy

Overall severe maternal morbidity and mortality (SMM) rates increase with increased body mass index (BMI). The higher the BMI, the greater the rate of SMM (Lisonkova et al., 2017). Once pregnant, there are risks associated with obesity. Obese women have a significant increase in early pregnancy loss. Diabetes is another complication that can affect a pregnant woman. An obese woman without recent testing may have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes (diabetes that has an onset during pregnancy) is significantly higher in obese women. Gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes can lead to additional maternal and fetal complications  (ACOG, 2015). Obesity is a risk factor for gestational hypertension and preeclampsia. Preterm birth is also a risk of obesity. This risk is not usually due to spontaneous preterm labor but medically indicated preterm delivery due to maternal medical reasons (Ramsey and Schenken, 2019). Obstructive sleep apnea worsens with obesity and weight gain in pregnancy, leading to increased complications.

Risks During Labor and Delivery

Obesity may lead to longer inductions of labor, longer labor times, and increased rates of c-sections. Obese women are also less likely to have a successful trial of labor after a cesarean section. An obese woman is more likely to have a macrosomic infant (weight >4000 grams). Macrosomia can cause many delivery complications, including shoulder dystocia, an operative vaginal delivery, perineal lacerations, or a c-section. These complications can cause trauma to the mother or the fetus (Ramsey and Schenken, 2019). Obese women may also have complications with anesthesia. The epidural or spinal may be more challenging to place in an obese woman.

Risks to the Fetus

As previously discussed, macrosomia is a problem that can affect the mother and fetus during delivery. Infants born to obese women also have an increased risk of hyperinsulinemia and hypoglycemia. As children of obese mothers age, they are more prone to childhood obesity and metabolic disorders. Some studies even show a link between obese mothers and children with neuropsychiatric and mood disorders (Howell and Powell, 2017). Congenital deformities such as neural tube defects, cardiovascular anomalies, and cleft palate have an increased risk in a child delivered to an obese woman.

Risks After Delivery

Obese, postpartum women, especially women who have had a c-section, are at an increased risk for venous thromboembolism (VTE). These women are also at an increased risk for infection and postpartum depression (Ramsey and Schenken, 2019). Women who have had a c-section are more likely to have repeat c-sections, which can increase the risks of placental abnormalities, adhesions, and complications from c-sections. Obese women and women with diabetes may have trouble with infection and wound healing. Women with preeclampsia have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in the future.

How to Improve Outcomes

Weight loss is the most important factor in improving outcomes. Diet and exercise before getting pregnant can improve reproductive outcomes and pregnancy outcomes and improve the woman's overall health (ASRM, 2015). A 10% reduction in pre-pregnancy BMI can positively impact outcomes. Weight loss surgery prior to pregnancy may also be beneficial. Weight loss drugs should not be used during pregnancy. Weight gain should be less and varies depending on the severity of obesity (Ramsey and Schenken, 2019). Early screening for diabetes is recommended, and close surveillance of the woman and fetus during pregnancy is important.

Nursing Care of Obese Women

When caring for obese, pregnant women, it is important not to judge the woman or make her feel guilty for being overweight but instead teach the woman about ways that she can make small, easy changes to improve her health outcomes (Mccloud, 2018). The nurse can help the woman identify barriers and find motivators to lead the woman to healthier eating and exercise. The nurse should be prepared for longer labor with possible complications, such as shoulder dystocia, vacuum, forceps, or c-section delivery during labor and delivery. Once the woman has delivered, the nurse should watch for signs of infection and VTE. The nurse should encourage breastfeeding, which can lead to more weight loss for the mom and decreased risk of obesity for the infant. These women also need proper long-term medical care, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease screening.

Case Study

Patient M.S. is a 22-year-old woman who presents to the prenatal clinic at 18 weeks gestation for her first prenatal visit. She is 5'4," and her pre-pregnancy weight was 290, making her BMI 50. She has not had regular preconception medical care. She has not received any screenings at this point. She has gained 15 pounds since getting pregnant. Her vital signs are BP 108/68, HR 78, Resp 16, and temperature 98.5. She complains of excessive thirst, a urinary tract infection, and fatigue.

What risks does M.S have?

M.S. is at risk for all complications associated with obesity. She may be a type 2 or gestational diabetic considering her symptoms. She is at risk for gestational hypertension or preeclampsia, although her BP is currently fine.

What care is needed for M.S.?

M.S. needs a full exam and screening for diabetes. She needs education on diet, exercise, and a healthy weight gain for obesity. She needs to be taught the importance of keeping her appointments and closely monitoring the pregnancy for her and her baby's health. She needs to know how important these things are and find the motivation to follow her care plan.


Obesity is a serious problem in the United States. It is not a problem that can be fixed overnight. Obesity can cause severe complications to the mother and fetus. Women need education on the risks and how to decrease them before getting pregnant. It is important that all nurses and healthcare providers know these risks and educate their patients.

Select one of the following methods to complete this course.

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Implicit Bias Statement

CEUFast, Inc. is committed to furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). While reflecting on this course content, CEUFast, Inc. would like you to consider your individual perspective and question your own biases. Remember, implicit bias is a form of bias that impacts our practice as healthcare professionals. Implicit bias occurs when we have automatic prejudices, judgments, and/or a general attitude towards a person or a group of people based on associated stereotypes we have formed over time. These automatic thoughts occur without our conscious knowledge and without our intentional desire to discriminate. The concern with implicit bias is that this can impact our actions and decisions with our workplace leadership, colleagues, and even our patients. While it is our universal goal to treat everyone equally, our implicit biases can influence our interactions, assessments, communication, prioritization, and decision-making concerning patients, which can ultimately adversely impact health outcomes. It is important to keep this in mind in order to intentionally work to self-identify our own risk areas where our implicit biases might influence our behaviors. Together, we can cease perpetuating stereotypes and remind each other to remain mindful to help avoid reacting according to biases that are contrary to our conscious beliefs and values.


  • ACOG Practice Bulletin No 156: Obesity in Pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol 2015; 126:e112. essential.
  • American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Practice Committee of the. Obesity and reproduction: a committee opinion. Fertil Steril 2015; 104: 1116.
  • Lisonkova S, Muraca GM, Potts J, et al. Association Between Prepregnancy Body Mass Index and Severe Maternal Morbidity. JAMA 2017; 318: 1777.
  • Howell KR, Powell TL. Effects of maternal obesity on placental function and fetal development. Reproduction. 2017;153(3). doi:10.1530/rep-16-0495. Visit Source.
  • Mccloud MB. Health Behavior Change in Pregnant Women With Obesity. Nursing for Womens Health. 2018;22(6):471-480. doi:10.1016/j.nwh.2018.09.002. Visit Source.
  • Ramsey PS, Schenken RS. Obesity in Pregnancy: Risks and Management. UpToDate. Updated June 7, 2019. Accessed December 27, 2019. Visit Source.