Almost half of pregnant women attending their first maternity appointment are overweight or obese, new data suggests.
Figures published for the first time show that 19% of women who attended their first booking appointment in October were obese, while a further 26% were overweight. The North of England had the highest levels of obesity, while London had the lowest.
The data, from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), is based on women who had their body mass index (BMI) recorded at their appointment.
Some 80 maternity providers submitted data in October, relating to more than 36,000 women who attended a first antenatal appointment.
Being obese during pregnancy increases the risk of complications such as gestational diabetes. Women are also at higher risk of pre-eclampsia, have an increased risk of urinary tract infections and may experience problems with pain relief in labour, such as epidurals. Obese women are also at higher risk of miscarriage and needing a Caesarean delivery.
Obesity can also cause problems for the baby such as a larger birth weight.
Research has also suggested a link between pregnancy obesity and the baby suffering heart disease and diabetes in adulthood.
Louise Silverton, director of midwifery for the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: "These latest figures are concerning and really do show just how much a growing problem obesity in pregnancy has become.
"Failing to tackle the causes of obesity has serious consequences for women, families and the population as a whole.
"Women should try to be an ideal weight before they become pregnant and, if not, should follow midwifery advice to manage their weight whist eating a good diet rich in micronutrients.
"After birth, women need support to develop healthy patterns of eating and exercise for themselves and their family. For women who are overweight or obese they need support and signposting to access weight-loss services to ensure that they are an ideal weight before they embark on their next pregnancy."