Abu Dhabi: More women are now dealing with complicated pregnancies brought about by unhealthy lifestyles and delays in seeking advice from health professionals, maternal and child health experts warned in the capital yesterday.

They stressed especially on the risks brought about by lifestyle diseases like diabetes and obesity, calling for more awareness among teenagers and women of child-bearing age.

"Diabetes and obesity, which are highly prevalent in the UAE, not only endanger women's health but also negatively affect the life and future health of the baby with effects that last into adulthood.

"Unfortunately, we are seeing more women with these illnesses during pregnancy," said Dr Bashir Salih, chief of service for obstetric medicine at the Corniche Hospital.

He was speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of the Medical Problems in Pregnancy conference organised by the Corniche Hospital yesterday, where health professionals met to discuss the various complications faced by women in the emirate during pregnancy and childbirth.

According to 2010 statistics by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD), 20 per cent of Emirati women and 18 per cent of expatriate women in the emirate were diabetic. In addition, obesity affected 38 per cent of Emirati women and 32 per cent of expatriate women.

Unaware of risks

However, many women are unaware of the pregnancy risks brought about by these diseases, Dr Salih said.

"Not only are premature births, miscarriages and pre-term labour common for such women, but babies can also suffer from mental developmental disorders or be born very big [weighing over four kilograms] without sufficiently developed internal organs. These big babies also have a high risk of remaining overweight well into adulthood," he explained.

Dr Salih recommended that all women safeguard their health from their teenage years onwards, and screen themselves for diabetes risk on an annual basis.

"Nearly 16 per cent of all deliveries at the Corniche Hospital last month involved women who were already afflicted by diabetes or had developed the disease during pregnancy [gestational diabetes]. We are therefore working to implement, by the end of the year, a diabetes risk screening system for all women who visit the hospital," he added. Many women in the emirate also failed to consult doctors or physicians in the early stages of their pregnancy.

Delaying visits

"Ideally, a pregnant woman needs to visit her doctor before the 12th week of pregnancy to undergo the required screenings and checks.

"However, 80 per cent of our patients delay these visits and by the time they finally consult a doctor, many complications have already cropped up," said Dr Yasmin Mazhar, senior specialist in the obstetrics and gynaecology department at Corniche Hospital.

When asked the reason behind such delays, Dr Mazhar said women often thought they knew what to do during their second and third pregnancies, and thereby delayed seeing a doctor.

"Greater focus on professional responsibilities also means women put off these consultations without realising their importance in ensuring a healthy pregnancy and delivery," she added.