Integrating multiple lines of evidence to assess the effects of maternal BMI on pregnancy and perinatal outcomes

Publication authors

Maria Carolina Borges, Gemma L. Clayton, Rachel M. Freathy, Janine F. Felix, Alba Fernández-Sanlés, Ana Gonçalves Soares, Fanny Kilpi, Qian Yang, Rosemary R. C. McEachan, Rebecca C. Richmond, Xueping Liu, Line Skotte, Amaia Irizar, Andrew T. Hattersley, Barbara Bodinier, Denise M. Scholtens, Ellen A. Nohr, Tom A. Bond, M. Geoffrey Hayes, Jane West, Jessica Tyrrell, John Wright, Luigi Bouchard, Mario Murcia, Mariona Bustamante, Marc Chadeau-Hyam, Marjo-Riitta Jarvelin, Martine Vrijheid, Patrice Perron, Per Magnus, Romy Gaillard, Vincent W. V. Jaddoe, William L. Lowe Jr, Bjarke Feenstra, Marie-France Hivert, Thorkild I. A. Sørensen, Siri E. Håberg, Sylvain Serbert, Maria Magnus & Deborah A. Lawlor



Higher maternal pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) is associated with adverse pregnancy and perinatal outcomes. However, whether these associations are causal remains unclear.


We explored the relation of maternal pre-/early-pregnancy BMI with 20 pregnancy and perinatal outcomes by integrating evidence from three different approaches (i.e. multivariable regression, Mendelian randomisation, and paternal negative control analyses), including data from over 400,000 women.


All three analytical approaches supported associations of higher maternal BMI with lower odds of maternal anaemia, delivering a small-for-gestational-age baby and initiating breastfeeding, but higher odds of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, pre-labour membrane rupture, induction of labour, caesarean section, large-for-gestational age, high birthweight, low Apgar score at 1 min, and neonatal intensive care unit admission. For example, higher maternal BMI was associated with higher risk of gestational hypertension in multivariable regression (OR = 1.67; 95% CI = 1.63, 1.70 per standard unit in BMI) and Mendelian randomisation (OR = 1.59; 95% CI = 1.38, 1.83), which was not seen for paternal BMI (OR = 1.01; 95% CI = 0.98, 1.04). Findings did not support a relation between maternal BMI and perinatal depression. For other outcomes, evidence was inconclusive due to inconsistencies across the applied approaches or substantial imprecision in effect estimates from Mendelian randomisation.


Our findings support a causal role for maternal pre-/early-pregnancy BMI on 14 out of 20 adverse pregnancy and perinatal outcomes. Pre-conception interventions to support women maintaining a healthy BMI may reduce the burden of obstetric and neonatal complications.


Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, European Research Council, National Institutes of Health, National Institute for Health Research, Research Council of Norway, Wellcome Trust.