Maternal prepregnancy obesity and cause-specific stillbirth

Lisa M. Bodnar*, W. Tony Parks, Kiran Perkins, Sarah J. Pugh, Robert W. Platt, Maisa Feghali, Karen Florio, Omar Young, Sarah Bernstein, Hyagriv N. Simhan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Background: In high-income countries, maternal obesity is one of the most important modifiable causes of stillbirth, yet the pathways underpinning this association remain unclear. Objective: We estimated the association between maternal prepregnancy body mass index (BMI) and the risk of stillbirth defined by pathophysiologic contributors or causes. Design: Using a case-cohort design, we randomly sampled 1829 singleton deliveries from a cohort of 68,437 eligible deliveries at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (2003-2010), and augmented it with all remaining cases of stillbirth for a total of 658 cases. Stillbirths were classified based on probable cause(s) of death (maternal medical conditions, obstetric complications, fetal abnormalities, placental diseases, and infection). A panel of clinical experts reviewed medical records, placental tissue slides and pathology reports, and fetal postmortem reports of all stillbirths. Causes of fetal death were assigned by using the Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network Initial Causes of Fetal Death protocol from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Proportional hazards models were used to estimate the BMI-stillbirth association after adjustment for confounders. Results: The rate of stillbirth among lean, overweight, obese, and severely obese women was 7.7, 10.6, 13.9, and 17.3 per 1000 liveborn and stillborn infants, respectively. Adjusted stillbirth HRs (95% CIs) were 1.4 (1.1, 1.8) for overweight, 1.8 (1.3, 2.4) for obese, and 2.0 (1.5, 2.8) for severely obese women, respectively, compared with lean women; associations strengthened when limited to antepartum stillbirths. Obesity and severe obesity were associated with stillbirth resulting from placental diseases, hypertension, fetal anomalies, and umbilical cord abnormalities. BMI was not related to stillbirth caused by placental abruption, obstetric conditions, or infection. Conclusions: Multiple mechanisms appear to link obesity to stillbirth. Interventions to reduce stillbirth among obese mothers should consider targeting stillbirth due to hypertension and placental diseases-the most common causes of fetal death in this at-risk group.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)858-864
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Body mass index
  • Fetal death
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Stillbirth
  • Weight
  • Women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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