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Keywords:

  • Caesarean section;
  • myometrial contractility;
  • obesity

Objective  The aim of the study was to elucidate the reason for the high rate of caesarean section in obese women. We examined the following hypotheses: (1) obese women have a high incidence of complications related to poor uterine contractility—caesarean section for dysfunctional labour and postpartum haemorrhage. 2) The myometrium from obese women has less ability to contract in vitro.

Design  First, a clinical retrospective analysis of data from 3913 completed singleton pregnancies was performed. Secondly, in a prospective study the force, frequency and intracellular [Ca2+] flux of spontaneously contracting myometrium were related to the maternal body mass index.

Setting  Liverpool Women’s Hospital and University of Liverpool.

Population  The clinical study involved all women who delivered in one hospital in 2002. The in vitro study myometrial biopsies were obtained from 73 women who had elective caesarean section at term.

Results  Maternal obesity carried significant risk of caesarean section in labour that was highest for delay in the first stage of labour (OR 3.54). The increased risk of caesarean section in obese women largely occurred in women with normal- and not with high-birthweight infants. Obese women delivering vaginally had increased risk of prolonged first stage of labour and excessive blood loss. Myometrium from obese women contracted with less force and frequency and had less [Ca2+] flux than that from normal-weight women.

Conclusions  We suggest that these findings indicate that obesity may impair the ability of the uterus to contract in labour.