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Big Mom, Small Baby

Photograph by AFP/Getty Images

Scientists, bless their pocket-protected hearts, are giving us women yet another reason to watch our cheeseburger and Buffalo wing intake: Swedish researchers just released a study saying that if you’re overweight or obese during pregnancy, you’re more likely to give birth to a preemie.

Dr. Sven Cnattingius from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute headed up a team that analyzed records of 1.6 million women and the babies they had between 1992 and 2010. Five percent of these children were born early. Only 0.17 percent of women whose weight was normal had a baby who was extremely premature, but as a woman’s body mass index (a measure of weight in relation to height) increased, so did her baby’s risks. Women who were overweight had a 0.21 percent chance of an extreme preemie; for women who were severely obese, the odds rose to an eyebrow-arching 0.52 percent.

“For the actual woman, her individual risk increase is not very big,” Cnattingius told Reuters Health. But he added that across an entire population—especially one like ours in the U.S., which already struggles with high rates of obesity—the dangers can add up quickly.

The study said the link was strongest for the most fragile babies of them all: those born between 22 and 27 weeks of gestation.

The takeaway? According to Dr. Muktar Aliyu of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, an expert on risky pregnancies, “This study suggests that there is a direct association between maternal overweight and obesity during pregnancy and the risk of preterm birth.” Aliyu, who wasn’t involved in the study, offers some advice: “Women should maintain a healthy weight before and after pregnancy, not just for their own health, but also for the sake of the unborn child.”

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