Open Access Research article

Maternal obesity is the new challenge; a qualitative study of health professionals’ views towards suitable care for pregnant women with a Body Mass Index (BMI) ≥30 kg/m2

Debbie M Smith1*, Alison Cooke2 and Tina Lavender2

Author Affiliations

1 The School of Psychological Sciences, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK

2 The School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social work, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2012, 12:157  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-157

Published: 19 December 2012



An increase in the number of women with maternal obesity (Body Mass Index [BMI] ≥30 kg/m2) has had a huge impact on the delivery of maternity services. As part of a programme of feasibility work to design an antenatal lifestyle programme for women with a BMI ≥30 kg/m2, the current study explored health professionals’ experiences of caring for women with a BMI ≥30 kg/m2 and their views of the proposed lifestyle programme.


Semi-structured interviews with 30 health professionals (including midwives, sonographers, anaesthetists and obstetricians) were conducted and analysed using thematic analysis. Recruitment occurred in two areas in the North West of England in early 2011.


Three themes were evident. Firstly, obesity was seen as a conversation stopper; obesity can be a challenge to discuss. Secondly, obesity was seen as a maternity issue; obesity has a direct impact on maternity care and therefore intervention is needed. Finally, the long-term impact of maternal obesity intervention; lifestyle advice in pregnancy has the potential to break the cyclic obesity relationship. The health professionals believed that antenatal lifestyle advice can play a key role in addressing the public health issue of obesity as pregnancy is a time of increased motivation for women with a BMI ≥30 kg/m2.


Maternal obesity is a challenge and details of the training content required for health professionals to feel confident to approach the issue of maternal obesity with women are presented. Support for the antenatal lifestyle programme for women with a BMI ≥30 kg/m2 highlights the need for further exploration of the impact of interventions on health promotion.

Maternal obesity; Health professionals; Qualitative research; Communication; Training needs