Risk of major congenital malformations in relation to maternal overweight and obesity severity: cohort study of 1.2 million singletons

Objective To estimate the risks of major congenital malformations in the offspring of mothers who are underweight (body mass index (BMI) <18.5), overweight (BMI 25 to <30), or in obesity classes I (BMI 30 to <35), II (35 to <40), or III (≥40) compared with offspring of normal weight mothers (BMI 18.5 to <25) in early pregnancy.

Design Population based cohort study.

Setting Nationwide Swedish registries.

Participants 1 243 957 liveborn singleton infants from 2001 to 2014 in Sweden. Data on maternal and pregnancy characteristics were obtained by individual record linkages.

Exposure Maternal BMI at the first prenatal visit.

Main outcome measures Offspring with any major congenital malformation, and subgroups of organ specific malformations diagnosed during the first year of life. Risk ratios were estimated using generalised linear models adjusted for maternal factors, sex of offspring, and birth year.

Results A total of 43 550 (3.5%) offspring had any major congenital malformation, and the most common subgroup was for congenital heart defects (n=20 074; 1.6%). Compared with offspring of normal weight mothers (risk of malformations 3.4%), the proportions and adjusted risk ratios of any major congenital malformation among the offspring of mothers with higher BMI were: overweight, 3.5% and 1.05 (95% confidence interval 1.02 to 1.07); obesity class I, 3.8% and 1.12 (1.08 to 1.15), obesity class II, 4.2% and 1.23 (1.17 to 1.30), and obesity class III, 4.7% and 1.37 (1.26 to 1.49). The risks of congenital heart defects, malformations of the nervous system, and limb defects also progressively increased with BMI from overweight to obesity class III. The largest organ specific relative risks related to maternal overweight and increasing obesity were observed for malformations of the nervous system. Malformations of the genital and digestive systems were also increased in offspring of obese mothers.

Conclusions Risks of any major congenital malformation and several subgroups of organ specific malformations progressively increased with maternal overweight and increasing severity of obesity. For women who are planning pregnancy, efforts should be encouraged to reduce adiposity in those with a BMI above the normal range.

Reference: BMJ 2017;357:j2563

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