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Scare tactics & women of size in childbirth

The New York Times recently published an article titled “Growing Obesity Increases Perils of Childbirth.” The article’s lead states:

As Americans have grown fatter over the last generation, inviting more heart disease, diabetes and premature deaths, all that extra weight has also become a burden in the maternity ward, where babies take their first breath of life.

Several bloggers, including ICAN’s own Kmom have blogged in reaction to this piece, highlighting the ways that it misrepresents the risks and evokes fear surrounding childbirth for women of size.

An excerpt from The Well Rounded Mama’s response:

It’s not that the possible risks of “obesity” and pregnancy should never be discussed with women of size.  Of course they should.  Women deserve to be informed of the possible risks.

However, this article was full of distortions and worst-case scenarios, and it implied that experiences such as stroke during pregnancy are extremely common in fat women.

Anyone reading these types of articles might well conclude that virtually no fat woman has ever had a healthy pregnancy or a healthy baby, that the only way to have a healthy pregnancy is to lose vast quantities of weight first, and that the vast majority of fat women experience major complications and have unhealthy babies. And that simply doesn’t jibe with the experiences of most fat mothers.

Yes, women of size are at increased risk of some complications. But the article distorts the magnitude of that risk and presents weight loss and highly interventive care as the only paths to a healthy pregnancy.

In fact, many women of size have healthy pregnancies and healthy births… can read many of these stories on my website.  I was one of them. I somehow managed to have four healthy babies at a much higher starting weight than the woman in the article. Despite being larger than her, I never had diabetes, I never had pre-eclampsia, I never had kidney problems, and I never had a stroke. And I know many more fat women just like me, in all sizes of fatness, who had healthy pregnancies and babies, in all sizes of fat. But THAT part of the obesity story doesn’t get publicized.

It’s not that you cannot discuss the possible risks of obesity in pregnancy with women. But it needs to be done in a fair and balanced way. This article was not well-balanced, it didn’t discuss the possible risks in a reasoned and calm manner, nor did it acknolwedge that many women of size can have healthy pregnancies and babies.

Sensationalistic articles like this are done to shame and scare women out of pregnancy, or into compliance with draconian interventions like weight loss surgery, lack of weight gain during pregnancy, extreme prenatal testing, unnecessary inductions, or planned cesareans.  Postpartum, they try to shame women into emphasizing weight loss at any cost, despite the fact that long-term research shows that nearly all diets will fail, many of the women with weight loss surgery will experience nutritional complications, and that weight loss attempts are one of the major factors in weight gain over the long run. Approaches like this will likely just worsen the problem, not improve it.

Please visit Kmom’s blog to read the full post. She very thoughtfully and methodically addresses the article’s misleading information.

One Comment

  1. Susan G says:

    I have visited your blog before. The more I learn, the more I keep coming back!