Health + Safety

Losing Weight for Baby: Mom’s Obesity Linked to Extreme Preemies

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For one Ohio mom-to-be, a years-long struggle to lose weight has become even more urgent.

Jeneen Bufford, 32, had bounced from one fad diet to another, never dropping as many pounds as she wanted. She lost 80 of her 320 pounds through a boot camp program, but later gained back 35. Now expecting a baby in December, Bufford worries about all the extra pounds.

“With me being very overweight, I definitely want to make sure I have a healthy pregnancy,” Bufford told NBC News. “I really don’t want to cause any harm to my child because of any choices that I’ve made.”

Bufford has a reason to be concerned. A recent study published in JAMA found the risk of extremely premature birth — babies born between 22 and 27 weeks — rose rapidly with increasing maternal weight.

Women with a body-mass index between 30 and 35 were 58 percent more likely than those at a healthy weight to deliver an extremely premature baby, a team of U.S. and Swedish researchers found after examining the medical and delivery records of 1,599, 551 Swedish moms. Pregnant women with a BMI between 35 and 40 were twice as likely as normal-weight moms to have an extremely premature baby, while those with BMIs of 40 or greater were nearly three times as likely to deliver an extremely premature baby.

“When a baby is born earlier than it should be born, the potential for all the organs not being fully developed is increased,” said Karen Cooper, director of Healthy Expectations, a program at the Cleveland Clinic that helps women lose weight before they become pregnant. The program also helps obese pregnant women such as Bufford make healthier lifestyle choices so they might minimize the risks to their babies.

“When it comes to being obese and being pregnant, the risk factors for things going wrong multiply very quickly,” Cooper told NBC News. “Along with that comes gestational diabetes, hypertension, and preeclampsia, which can eventually lead to eclampsia, which is a condition where seizures occur.”