Obesity and pregnancy

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Research into obesity and pregnancy

Dr Penny Sheehan, Assoc Prof Helena Parkington

Over the past 20 years, the prevalence of obesity has risen dramatically worldwide. Recent findings show that 52%of Australian women are overweight or obese* including 35% of women aged 25-35 years of age+. As a result of the increase in obesity in these reproductive years, the prevalence of obesity in pregnancy is also rising. Increased complications of labour and delivery are linked to obesity in pregnancy. Maternal obesity has been found to slow cervical dilatation and increase the risk of prolonged labour. Obese pregnant women have higher rates of medical interventions around labour and birth including higher rates of induction for prolonged pregnancy and higher rates of Caesarean section as a result of failure to progress in labour.

Research Support:

  • Rosalinda B Ditchfield Charitable Trust & Isobel Hill Brown Charitable Trust (Perpetual Trustees)
  • Royal Women's Hospital Hospital Foundation
  • Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology


  • *Cameron AJ, Welborn TA, Zimmet PZ, Dunstan DW, Owen N, Salmon J, Dalton M, Jolley D, Shaw JE. Overweight and obesity in Australia: the 1999-2000 Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (AusDiab).Med J Aust. 2003 May 5;178(9):427-32. Erratum in: Med J Aust. 2004 Apr 19;180(8):418.
  • +Callaway LK, Prins JB, Chang AM, McIntyre HD. The prevalence and impact of overweight and obesity in an Australian obstetric population. Med J Aust. 2006 Jan 16;184(2):56-9.
  • #Nuthalapaty FS, Rouse DJ, Owen J. The association of maternal weight with cesarean risk, labor duration, and cervical dilation rate during labor induction. Obstet Gynecol. 2004 Mar;103(3):452-6. Erratum in: Obstet Gynecol. 2004 May;103(5 Pt 1):1019.

Uterine dysfunction in obese women

Assoc Prof Helena Parkington, Prof Shaun Brennecke, Dr Richard Lang

About 30% of young Australian women are obese. Obese pregnant women have higher rates of medical interventions during labour, induction for prolonged pregnancy, Caesarean delivery as a result of failure to progress in labour, and longer bed stays, with significant implications for service delivery. This project aims to better understand mechanisms whereby obesity results in ineffective labour, and to determine whether lipid modification or omega-3 fatty acid supplementation improve outcomes.

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