Proposed biological linkages between obesity, stress, and inefficient uterine contractility during labor in humans

Med Hypotheses. 2011 May;76(5):755-60. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2011.02.018. Epub 2011 Mar 5.


Cesarean delivery has reached epidemic proportions in contemporary western healthcare. For otherwise healthy first-time (nulliparous) women at term gestation with a single fetus in a head down position, the most common clinical diagnosis prompting cesarean delivery is dystocia, including clinical terms such as uterine dysfunction, failure to progress, arrest of dilation and/or arrest of descent of the fetal head. In 2006, the cesarean rate for this lowest risk population of childbearing women was 26% in the United States despite the goal of Healthy People 2010 to reduce this rate to 15% from a baseline of 18% in 1998. While multiple lines of evidence suggest that the nulliparous uterus is particularly vulnerable to a diagnosis of uterine dysfunction during labor, pathophysiologic explanations for this dysfunction have not been well described. The acute stress response has been implicated as one factor in this dysfunction for many years, while more recently the growing epidemic of adiposity among women of childbearing age has been suggested as an additional pathway by which myometrial cell function may be disrupted. Using both clinical and in vitro evidence, we hypothesize a combined model in which pathways of acute stress and changes associated with maternal adiposity, particularly exaggerated levels of cholesterol and leptin, may independently and synergistically impair the contractile apparatus of the myocyte leading to the clinical diagnosis of uterine dystocia and subsequent cesarean delivery.

MeSH terms

  • Cesarean Section
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Labor, Obstetric*
  • Leptin / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Muscle Cells / metabolism
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obstetric Labor Complications / etiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Uterine Contraction*


  • Leptin
  • Cholesterol