Maternal obesity may influence brain development of premature infants

March 8, 2012

Maternal obesity may contribute to cognitive impairment in extremely premature babies, according to a new study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

"Although in the past decade medical advances have improved the survival rate of babies born at less than seven months, they are still at very high risk for mental compared with full-term infants," said Jennifer Helderman, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study. "This study shows that obesity doesn't just affect the mother's health, but might also affect the development of the baby."

Published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics, the study looked at 921 infants born before 28 weeks of gestation during 2002 to 2004 at 14 participating institutions. The researchers assessed the babies' placenta for infection and other abnormalities, interviewed the mothers and reviewed their medical records. At age 2, the children's were evaluated using the Mental Development Index (MDI) portion of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, a commonly used measure.

The scientists found that both maternal obesity and lack of were associated with impaired early cognitive function, as was pre-term thrombosis (blood clot) in the placenta.

"We weren't really surprised by the because it has been repeatedly shown that social disadvantage predicts worse infant outcomes," Helderman said. "However, obesity is of particular interest because it is becoming more prevalent and it is potentially modifiable during the pre-conception period and pregnancy."

Obesity has been linked to inflammation, and inflammation can damage the developing brain, Helderman said. What isn't known is if the obesity-related inflammation in the mother is transmitted to the fetus.

"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 in extremely premature babies," Helderman said.

Helderman's colleague, Michael O'Shea, M.D., section head of neonatology at Wake Forest Baptist, is currently conducting a study that follows these same babies into mid-childhood to determine long-term cognitive problems.

More than 30,000 extremely are born each year in the United States.

Explore further: Does a bigger brain make for a smarter child in babies born prematurely?

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Can nicotine protect the aging brain?

September 20, 2016

Everyone knows that tobacco products are bad for your health, and even the new e-cigarettes may have harmful toxins. However, according to research at Texas A&M, it turns out the nicotine itself—when given independently ...

Science can shape healthy city planning

September 23, 2016

Previous studies have shown a correlation between the design of cities and growing epidemics of injuries and non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. A three-part series published in The Lancet ...

50-country comparison of child and youth fitness levels

September 21, 2016

An international research team co-led from the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and the University of North Dakota studied the aerobic fitness levels of children and youth across 50 countries. The results are ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.