SEVERELY obese women who attend specialist antenatal clinics during pregnancy are eight times less likely to suffer a stillbirth, a study has found.

Health experts said the clinics spot signs of complications sooner, so that expectant mothers can be given appropriate treatment.

It also helps clinicians to pinpoint those who need to be induced early or undergo an elective caesarean to avoid problems during labour.

The study, which was carried out by researchers at the Tommy’s Centre for Maternal and Fetal Health at Edinburgh University, tracked more than 1000 pregnant women classed as being severely obese during pregnancy because they had a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above. Around one in 50 pregnant women in UK are severely obese.

The cohort was split into one group which attended a specialist obesity antenatal clinic and a second group which received standard antenatal care. The study took place between 2008 and 2014.

Those attending the obesity clinic were treated by a team that included obstetricians, specialist midwives, dieticians and other clinical experts.

They were given tailored advice about healthy eating and weight management during pregnancy, and were tested for diseases such as gestational diabetes.

Women who developed a complication could be treated in one visit, rather than being referred to a separate specialist clinic at a later date.

The study found that there was only one stillbirth from 511 pregnancies in the specialist cohort, compared to eight out of 502 pregnancies in the standard cohort.

Nationally in Scotland, the stillbirth rate in severely obese mothers was seven per 1000 in 2011-2012.

Dr Fiona Denison, honorary consultant in maternal and fetal health at Edinburgh University, said: “Obese women are at high risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes. Our study suggests that multidisciplinary care has potential to improve pregnancy outcomes for mother and baby.”

Rebecca Reynolds, Professor of Metabolic Medicine at Edinburgh University, said: “Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment of diabetes in pregnancy is one way we can improve outcomes for these high risk pregnant women.”

Rona McCandlish, of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “Being obese when pregnant can cause complications for women and their babies and means we should do all we can to offer support and specialist maternity services for these women.

“Effective team working by midwives, doctors and other health professionals has long been recognised as leading to better outcomes for women and this has again been highlighted in this study.

The study is published today in the journal BMJ Open.