Premature baby’s brain development could be influenced by mum’s weight during pregnancy, revealed latest US research.
The team form Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center studied 921 infants born before 28 weeks of gestation during 2002 to 2004 in 14 participating institutions across the US.
Over 30,000 babies are born premature in the US each year and although survival rates are high, there is still a high risk for brain damage and later cognitive development problems.
“Although in the past decade medical advances have improved the survival rate of babies born less than seven months, that are still at very high risk for mental developmental delays compared with full-term infants,” said Jennifer Helderman, assistant professor of paediatrics at Wake Forest Baptist Center and lead author of the study.
Researchers examined the babies’ placenta for infection and other abnormalities, interviewed the mothers and reviewed their medical records. At the age of two, the children’s cognitive skills were evaluated using the Mental Development Index (MDI) portion of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development – a commonly used measure for studies like this.
Results showed that both maternal obesity and lack of high school education were associated with impaired early brain development, as was pre-term thrombosis (blood clot) in the placenta.
“We weren’t surprised by the socioeconomic factors because it has been repeatedly shown that social disadvantage predicts worse infant outcomes,” said Helderman.
“However, obesity is of particular interest because it is become more prevalent and it is potentially modifiable during pre-conception period and pregnancy.”
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, explained that obesity is linked to inflammation and inflammation can damage the developing brain. However, what isn’t known is if the obesity related inflammation in the mother is transmitted to the foetus.
Helderman added: “Few studies have addressed prenatal risk factors of cognitive impairment for infants born this prematurely. The long-term goal is to use information from studies like ours to develop treatments that prevent cognitive impairment in extremely premature babies."