CBNNews.com - A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that obese women are more likely to have children with birth defects.
British researchers found that the birth defects may include spina bifida, heart problems and cleft palate.
Dr. Emily Gelson of London's Imperial College said the risk factors must be highlighted during pregnancy to promote timely diagnosis of heart disease in pregnant women.
"Only by raising the profession's awareness of the possibility of heart disease in pregnant women will this alarming rise in the maternal mortality rate be arrested, and preferably, reversed," she said.
Obesity is also a strong link to type 2 diabetes, which establishes a greater risk for birth defects.
The president of the Royal Society of Medicine's Maternity & the Newborn Section also warned that by the time an obese woman becomes pregnant the damage is already done.
"Once an obese woman is pregnant, she and her baby already run a greater risk to their health," said Dr. Eugene Oteng-Ntim.
Some doctors say the government should do more to promote these health risks to women.
Oteng-Ntim blamed the government obesity campaigns for not paying enough attention to what he calls "one of the most important groups in the population."
"Obesity problems begin before conception and pregnancy is certainly not the time to start trying to lose weight," he added.
Professor Philip Steer, president of the RSM's obstetrics & gynaecology section, said there are public warnings about health risks of pregnancy but not in relation to obesity.
"We've had warnings on cigarette packets telling us that smoking can harm the unborn baby as well as the mother," he said. "But there seems to be little effort made to warn mothers about the risk obesity poses to mother and child."
An estimated one in six pregnant women in Britain is now overweight or obese.
Sources: USA Today, Daily Telegraph, CBN News