Pregnant & Heavy: Medical Malpractice Risk?

Steven E. North, Esq.
Shari James, Paralegal

Being obese is a grave concern. Even worse is being pregnant and obese.

Research has shown that one in every three childbearing females is affected by obesity which can also affect their unborn children. Babies of obese women can be caused to suffer from congenital defects, develop hypertension and become obese adults. Complications of obesity in pregnancy include, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, premature births and miscarriages.

In a July 8, 2014 New York Times article, “The Perils of Being Obese and Pregnant”, it is noted that obstetricians and gynecologists have become wary, for fear of liability, of treating obese patients because it imposes risks upon both mother and baby and leads to potential difficulty that the expectant mother can face during and after the pregnancy.

Dr. Sigal Klipstein, chairwoman of the committee on ethics of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist, has emphasized that it is important for physicians to put aside their fears of potential medical malpractice and address the issue of obesity with patients. Though special care should be taken with overweight patients, shunning them is not a solution. Rather, Dr. Klipstein states that the problem should be addressed with patient, since “obese women are often not intentionally overeating or eating the wrong foods.”

In a report by Dr. Klipstein’s committee it is noted that “it is unethical for doctors to refuse care within the scope of their expertise, solely because the patient is obese.” But in instances where a physician feels that they are unable to provide adequate care to an obese and/or pregnant woman, they should advise the patient accordingly or refer them to another physician who is capable of providing such care.

Of course, under the guidance of a physician, education about the risks and complications of being obese as well as knowledge of possible measures that can be used to combat the issue will go a long way in ensuring that an expectant mother can have a healthy and safe deliver. In turn, such practices will serve to help avoid medical malpractice claims.