FOR most mums, being pregnant is one of the few occasions where any body insecurities go out of the window.
When you’re expecting, your physique changes whether you like it or not so body shaming should certainly be out of the question.
Well not for these mums who say they’ve been fat-shamed while pregnant and not by cruel trolls but by medical professionals.
The devastated new mums have told Fabulous their weight means they are being denied the births they want and have even been told that their weight could kill their babies.
Some have even been referred to Slimming World while pregnant, even though losing weight in pregnancy is not advised.
“You could kill your baby”
Mums like Gemma, 34, says that the discrimination they received about their weight completely spoilt her pregnancy.
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The IT manager, who is mum to Emily, 14 weeks, had ‘high risk’ scrawled on every page of her birthing notes.
She says: “My BMI is 35 which is just literally over the threshold but I was told it’s not considered ‘safe’ in pregnancy.
“I was told to limit the weight I put on and that -because of my BMI -I couldn’t have the birth I wanted and that my baby would be born with shoulder dystocia.
“A midwife told me ‘the stillbirth rate will double if you go past 40 weeks and five days’.
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“And a consultant said: ‘If you go past 41 weeks your placenta will stop working and you could kill your baby.’”
Gemma claims: “This is scaremongering. And inaccurate.
“I was pushed into an induction -something I didn’t want and that was first mentioned at 38 weeks.
“I wonder how many women are being pushed into inductions they don’t want because they fear killing their baby? It’s completely wrong.”
But Gemma’s experience is not an isolated one. Many women experience the same treatment.
“Your thighs are too fat”
Julie, 40, is mum to Elis, 16 weeks, born by emergency c-section.
She says: “I was also warned not to go past 40 weeks because there were increased risks of my baby being stillborn.
“I was referred to a consultant- midwife and I explained to her that I wanted to wait for spontaneous labour and to be on a midwife-led unit.
“I was having regular growth scans as Elis was coming up as a big baby. I kept being asked if I had gestational diabetes and had to be tested three times.
“At 36 weeks gestation the obstetrician mentioned about induction and shoulder dystocia and when I pointed out that induction is actually a risk factor and there is a manoeuvre that can be done, he said: ‘No, your thighs are too fat for that.’”
Julie, whose BMI was 50 at booking in, was also told her age made her pregnancy higher risk.
She tried to advocate for herself but felt like she was being ‘difficult.’
I burst into tears and cried for several days.''
She adds: “I didn’t want to be induced –I knew that could lead to increased intervention – so I asked for their reasoning and rationale.
“I was made to feel like I was being difficult and risking my baby’s life.
“He said: ‘This is a baby you’ve wanted all your life. I don’t want this baby coming out dead or with a broken arm. I will have nightmares.’
“I burst into tears and cried for several days.
“I had thought going to scans would be a nice experience – a chance to see your baby – but each one was anxiety-inducing was full of stress and anxiety because of the way I was treated and spoken to.
“I was always told I was high risk but no one ever gave me any figures. It was hard to have a sensible conversation because facts were not presented.
“I gave the hospital feedback and they apologised and are now looking to make improvements.”
“All the wrong assumptions”
But it isn’t just fat-shaming that these mums fell victim to with Lydia Simons, 28, encouraged to actually lose weight during the pregnancy.
The teaching assistant who is mum to Martha, six months, says: “At the booking appointment I was told I was high risk due to my BMI being 40 and that I was being referred so I was under consultant-led care – I wasn't asked for my opinion.
“I have a history of eating disorders and didn’t want to be referred to, but my wishes were ignored.
“I was led to believe that you shouldn’t diet when you are pregnant so I was very surprised to be contacted about attending sessions at Slimming World.
''The midwife had referred me to Slimming World. I turned the sessions down.”
Lydia felt terrified when she was bombarded with a list of all the risks.
“I had an appointment to discuss birth options with the consultant but they just listed all the risks. ‘I was at higher risk of shoulder dystocia, of haemorraghing, still birth… it was terrifying.
''They told me the risks were two or three times higher but didn’t use any actual numbers.
“I couldn’t understand why doctors were concerned about me wanting a water birth due to my BMI but it was allowed an epidural and morphine.
“There was an assumption of extra complications because of my BMI but I had a very normal, straightforward pregnancy.”
“I was judged”
Andrea Cooper, 37, lives with fiance James and children Edward, two and Annie, four months.
She said: “Every time I walked into the hospital room I felt judged, the first thing the consultant did was ask me about my weight.
“I had a c-section with my first child but I wanted to have a vbac this time.
“But I was told: ‘Oh with a BMI like yours that won’t be possible.’’’
Andrea, whose BMI was 53 at the time, was repeatedly tested for gestational diabetes.
“When my first test was negative the consultant said: ‘I’m very shocked you’ve not got it.’ They made me have the test three more times.
“I was pressured into an induction when I didn’t want one. I wish I’d fought back and said no.
“I was set up to fail. They really wanted me to have a c-section and that was that.
“Women shouldn’t have to put up with this kind of treatment. I’m thick skinned but I was regularly crying in hospital because of the treatment I received.
“Everything was so negative.”
“This is shocking but not surprising”
Alice Keely has 20 years specialist experience as a midwife and a PhD in plus-size pregnancy.
She said: “This is shocking but not surprising. I hear every day from women who are being pressured into having inductions, early epidurals and caesareans, and/or are restricted from choices for home birth, waterbirth & midwife led unit care.
“Almost half the pregnant population of the UK are above the recommended BMI when they get pregnant. There is so much negativity and stigma. Plus-size women are told there is double the risk of a stillbirth, but the risks are tiny so this is scaremongering.
“Most of the women I’ve spoken to – and there are hundreds – are already concerned about their health and weight.
“Women are spending their pregnancies being frightened.’'
While the mums say that their experiences were unjustified, doctors point out that there are far greater risks in pregnancy when it comes to having an elevated BMI.
Speaking to Fabulous, Dr Anita Raja says: “A BMI of over 40 or 50 signifies a level of extreme obesity.
“Pregnant Women with a higher BMI are facing the risk of gestational diabetes (diabetes, a condition where the sugar regulation in your blood is impaired hence your circulating sugars are high making your bloody sticky causing damage to organs).
“Babies in the womb of mothers affected by this can grow to an excessive birth weight leading to emergency C-sections rather than a normal vaginal delivery.
“They are also at a higher risk of pre-eclampsia, a condition which is marked by high blood pressure and presence of proteins in the urine.
“This can become a dangerous life threatening condition for both mother and baby.
''A bigger maternal size also makes it more difficult for doctors to assess an unborn baby's presentation, size, and monitoring of the foetal heart so the assessment of any abnormalities can be very challenging.
“Mothers with obesity will also find breast feeding of their newborn babies much more difficult."
Dr Keely- @theheavyweightmidwife – who also runs the heavyweight midwife Facebook group – says she feels ‘frustrated’.
“Lots of health professionals forget the numbers when talking to patients and just tell them that the risk of a still birth doubles past 40 weeks (not that it is 0.6 per cent for plus-size women). It’s not an informed decision if a patient doesn’t have all the facts.
“Women are being advised to have an induction because the still-birth rate is higher- but they don’t realise there is still a very low chance.
''There is poor understanding and communication about the risks- the chance of complications for any woman of any weight is very low unless there are medical problems already before pregnancy.
“As a health professional I feel very frustrated – being labelled high risk means women feel like complications are likely to happen which is inaccurate and causes anxiety – it’s damaging to patients’ mental health.
''Pregnancy is not a time when weight loss is recommended.
''My role is to reassure plus-size women with the evidence and stats so they are aware the risks are low and can advocate for themselves.”
Know the facts
– Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a form of diabetes which affects up to 15% of women in pregnancy. Source: NHS Milton Keynes
– The overall risk of stillbirth in the UK is one in 200 (0.5%), but if you have a BMI over 30, your risk is doubled to one in 100 (1%) Source: NHS Southampton
– Shoulder dystocia is more likely with large babies but nevertheless there is no difficulty delivering the shoulders in the majority of babies over 4.5 kg (10 lb). Half of all instances of shoulder dystocia occur in babies weighing less than 4 kg (about 9 lb).Source: NHS Gateshead
Dr Virginia Beckett, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and spokesperson for The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: “A higher BMI in pregnancy increases the chance of developing complications but the majority of women with an increased BMI do not develop any complications and have healthy babies.
“It is vital that healthcare professionals and pregnant women have good communication about the risks associated with a higher BMI in pregnancy, so that they can openly discuss available options and make the best decisions for the individual.
''There are some interventions, like high dose folic acid, screening for pregnancy-related diabetes and limiting weight gain in pregnancy that can improve outcomes for the woman and her baby.
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“Whilst evidence shows that there is an increased risk of complications, it is impossible to say who exactly will be affected by these complications.
''Risk should always be communicated clearly and empathetically, so that women feel that their questions and concerns are listened to, and are fully involved in the decision making.”
- Dieting in pregnancy is not known to be safe.
- NHS advice on healthy eating and weighing women in pregnancy does not consider the many women who have an eating disorder, or have had one in the past.
- Health is holistic- it is about eating well, sleeping well, exercising, and looking after your mind as well as your body.
- Emotional support and reassurance in pregnancy from your health professionals is key to wellness.
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