Study reveals overweight mums cost maternity hospitals more time and money

Overweight mothers are having more caesareans, taking more time in the operating theatre and costing hospitals more money, a new study has revealed.

The results are from the University of Melbourne MUM SIZE study, which examined the time under anaesthesia care for about 1500 women undergoing caesarean section and the connection between a mother’s size and time in the operating room for caesarean delivery.

It is one of the first studies of its kind.

The study claims obese pregnant women are costing hospitals an extra $25 a minute, the average time of each procedure increases by up to 25 per cent and anaesthesia time rises by between eight to 18 minutes.


Lead investigator and the university’s head of anaesthesia, Professor David Story, says clinical teams have to consider numerous pre-existing medical conditions such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia when preparing for the birth of a baby to an overweight mum.

“Women with increased body size are twice as likely to have a caesarean delivery,” he says.

“The average length of time under the care of anaesthetists (before, during and after delivery) for a pregnant woman of normal weight undergoing a caesarean is about 72 minutes,” says Professor Story, who is also a fellow of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists. For obese women (BMI 35-45) there was a 10 per cent increase in times and for the very obese (BMI of 45 and over), there is a 25 per cent increase in time under the care of an anaesthetist.

The study was a collaboration between seven Victorian hospitals: the Royal Women’s Hospital, Sunshine Hospital, Mercy Hospital for Women, the Northern Hospital, Northeast Health Wangaratta, Ballarat Base Hospital and Shepparton Regional Hospital.

“We know that obese women have an increased risk of complications with a caesarean. The risks and challenges of the procedure increase as the severity of obesity increases,” Prof Story says. “As anaesthesia care is required during the procedure, the anaesthetist becomes an important part of the collaborative care team to ensure both mum and baby are healthy.”

Prof Story says there is a need to revise health policy and guidelines within hospital care as part of a broader trend of a population with increasing rates of obesity among both men and women.

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