SCREAMING at the top of her lungs, Kayleigh James felt pain like never before.
After 12 agonising hours of labour, her baby son Frank’s head had emerged — but because he was so big, his shoulders had become stuck behind her pelvic bone.
Kayleigh, 24, says: “Two midwives pushed my legs back into the most painful position imaginable to try to open my hips more.
“They had to get him out quickly, as he was being deprived of oxygen.
“I’ve never experienced pain like it. There was no time for an epidural, but gas and air didn’t even touch the sides.
“When he finally came out — leaving me with a second-degree tear — I could see the midwife’s shock at the size of him. He weighed 11lb 5oz, but he wasn’t breathing and needed resuscitation.
My legs were pushed into most painful position imaginable
“He almost didn’t make it but luckily he was very strong, and when he cried, everyone cheered. He was the talk of the ward because of how large he was.”
Customer services officer Kayleigh, of Overton, Hants, isn’t alone, with research showing the average birth weight has increased by 1.4oz (40g) over the past 35 years.
Dr Ellie Rayner, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, is founder of the Maternity Collective.
‘THE RECOVERY WAS GRUELLING’
She says the bigger baby boom is down to reduced levels of smoking, women becoming mothers older and rising levels of obesity.
Dr Rayner adds: “We know babies born to mothers who smoke are usually around 150g smaller than those born to non-smokers, and over the past 20 to 40 years there has been a significant decrease in women smoking.
“Younger mums also tend to have lighter babies but most women now wait until they are in their thirties to start a family.
“Obesity levels may also be responsible, with more mums having a BMI over 30, which can cause pregnancy diabetes and lead to bigger babies.”
Baby Frank, nine months, is Kayleigh’s second child with her now ex-partner James, 28, a highway maintenance worker, following the birth of their daughter Bonnie in August 2017.
She says: “With Bonnie, the pain was off the chart. Big babies run in my family, and she was 9lb 11oz.
“Despite having an episiotomy — an incision in the perineum to make more space for the baby to come out — I also had a second-degree tear.
“I was told my second baby would be easier. But it was even worse. With Frank, I was induced 15 days early on September 10, 2020, after being diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. They said he was around 8lb, and they were worried about him getting bigger.
“It’s a good job we didn’t wait any longer — who knows how big he would’ve ended up.
“After labour, I needed six stitches, and the recovery was gruelling.
“My tummy is still saggy and covered in stretch marks, as my bump was so big, but Frank was worth it all.
“Saying that, I’m not sure I’d get through it again, so that’s it for me.”
LIKE Kayleigh, mum-of-two Alice Pingstone also endured a difficult labour during the birth of her 11lb 14oz daughter Delphi on June 8, 2020.
Alice, 35, an astrologer from Bath, says: “We knew from scans she was going to be big.
“Doctors wanted to induce me early but I’d had a terrible experience being induced with my first daughter Xanthe, now three, who was 10lb 10oz.
“I’d had an episiotomy and lost a lot of blood, very nearly requiring a blood transfusion. They had to use forceps to pull her out. I wanted this baby to come on her own, so I agreed to go in for regular monitoring instead.”
Alice was two weeks overdue when her contractions started.
At first, she managed at home but after seven hours, her midwife demanded an ambulance be called and Alice was rushed to hospital with her doula, leaving husband John, 41, a planning consultant, at home.
Midwives joked she would go on to solids straightaway
She says: “I had flashbacks to my first birth — the contractions were absolutely excruciating.
“When Delphi was born an hour and 40 minutes after arriving at hospital, the cord was wrapped around her neck and she was rushed away by midwives before being given the all-clear.
“After they weighed her, there were lots of jokes about how she’d go straight on to solids. The midwife had worked at the hospital for 20 years and said it was the biggest baby she had ever delivered.
“Although it was very painful, I recovered quickly, and she has always been so healthy.”
According to Dr Rayner, bigger babies do tend to be stronger than smaller ones.
‘He looked like a giant Sumo wrestling baby’
She says: “People often presume a small baby is a good thing, but a smaller baby might not cope as well with labour and may be at risk of developing more serious complications.
“The NHS has got better at providing antenatal care and preventing some babies from being born too early and giving them more chance to put weight on while they are inside the womb.”
MUM-of-one Fiona Hamilton-Currie, 40, a marketing executive, from Tonbridge, Kent, was rushed for an emergency caesarean for her son Buddy, born weighing a whopping 12lb on January 10, 2021.
Fiona, who is married to joiner Graham, 45, says: “With amazing roly-poly thighs and chubby cheeks, he didn’t look like a newborn at all.
“When the medics handed him to my husband, they jokingly asked if he was feeling strong enough as Buddy was so big.”
Fiona, who is nearly 6ft, knew her bump was large but midwives had no concerns and said he would weigh around 9lb. She went into labour naturally, nine days past her due date — but after four hours, the contractions stalled.
She says: “Buddy didn’t seem keen on coming out. It might have been because he was so big.
“They had to induce me and after four hours I was given pethidine for the pain — it was like nothing I’ve experienced.
None of the doctors had ever delivered such a big baby
“After eight-and-a-half hours in labour, Buddy’s heart-rate dipped, then stopped. It was terrifying.
“They had to get him out quickly and I was put under general anaesthetic so neither Graham nor I got to see him being born.
“I came round 30 minutes later to see this huge baby being passed to me.
“We had a constant stream of midwives and doctors coming to have a look at him — none of them had ever delivered a baby of that size. He looked like a giant Sumo wrestling baby.
“Buddy is five months old now and wearing clothes for six to nine-month-olds. He rarely cries but when he does, by gosh, we all know about it. I imagine his lungs are a good size too.”
Dr Rayner says having a big baby is not necessarily more painful, dangerous or prone to complications.
She says: “Lots of things happen to a woman’s body to facilitate a vaginal birth, such as the pelvis opening wider. Your body will do what it was made to do.
“The only time doctors worry about a baby being very big is if the mother has pregnancy diabetes and her baby is predicted to be bigger than 9lbs 9oz (4.5kg) as this can lead to complications. If that happens, your doctor or midwife may recommend a C-section.”
Big ones on the rise
NHS midwife Darcey Croft says . . .
“WE are definitely seeing more “cuddly” babies on labour wards. When I was a new midwife starting out 12 years ago, I’d hardly see mums-to-be with gestational diabetes, but now more and more women are being diagnosed.
“Some women are very small and have huge babies. Others may be big and have smaller ones.
“Usually, there are no complications and your baby is exactly the right size for you.
“Big babies are usually robust, but as midwives, we don’t like surprises so making a personalised plan for each woman is important.
“We do have to give them special care if the mum has gestational diabetes or delivers a large baby, as there may be a chance it developed after the screening test and was undiagnosed.
“In cases like this, the baby’s blood sugars can crash quite quickly after birth so we have to keep a close eye on them for a while. Keeping babies warm, well fed and doing lots of skin to skin contact minimises this risk.
“From 24 weeks, all midwives should be measuring mums-to-be every two weeks, and if they have any concerns they will refer you for a growth scan.
“Having a large baby or being diagnosed with gestational diabetes can increase worry and if you are struggling, your midwife can organise additional support for your mental health.
“That is why it is so important for mums to go to every antenatal appointment, so we midwives can make sure you have the best care possible.”
- Darcey is an NHS specialist midwife for perinatal mental health for Buckinghamshire Health Care Trust. She is also the founder of barenaturals.com.
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