A new study claims that obese pregnant women may have a more difficult time managing infections compared to leaner and healthier pregnant women. The team of researchers, headed by Dr. Sarbattama Sen from the Mother Infant Research Institute at Tufts Medical Center and Floating Hospital for Children in Boston, studied 30 women who were in their second trimester. Half of them were obese, with a pre-pregnant body-mass index or BMI of higher than 30. The other half had a normal BMI of 20-25.
The researchers discovered that obese pregnant women, in their blood samples, had lower levels of immune system cells, specifically the T-cells and natural killer cells. These cells are responsible for combating infection and strengthening the body’s natural defenses. Additionally, obese pregnant women showed a decreased ability to produce such cells.
Obesity in pregnancy not only harms the mother, but the unborn child as well. “Women who are obese before pregnancy have critical differences in their immune function during pregnancy compared to normal-weight women, which has negative consequences for both mother and baby,” Sen said. Instead of a healthy state, obesity can predispose the baby to develop diseases and complications. “The issue is taking on added urgency due to the increasing numbers of obese women of reproductive age,” Sen added.
Infections during the antenatal period present a threatening risk, as harmful microorganisms can travel from the maternal circulation and pass through to placenta to reach the fetal circulation, where the baby can suffer from intrauterine diseases and congenital malformations. Maternal obesity is a growing public health problem that needs to be acted upon. The study should foster a large-scale health approach to control obesity in pregnancy.