Preemies' Brains Related to Mom's Gains

Premature babies born to obese mothers tend to have impaired brain development

(RxWiki News) Extremely premature babies are already at high risk for impaired brains, but those born to obese mothers may be at even more a disadvantage.

A new study has revealed a correlation between obese mothers and slower cognitive development for babies born several months before their due date.

"Talk to your doctor about your weight if planning to become pregnant."

Jennifer Helderman, M.D., assistant director of pediatrics at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and colleagues led a study that looked at outcomes of extremely premature babies born from 2002 to 2004 at 14 different hospitals.

The 921 infants they studied were born before 28 weeks - about three months early. The researchers investigated the babies' placenta to see if it had any infection or other abnormal issues, and they interviewed the mothers and reviewed data on their medical records.

When the children were 2 years old, the researchers used a standard test of infant development to assess their cognitive skills.

The factors Helderman's team found to be associated with lower cognitive function were mothers who were obese or had no high school education and babies whose placentas had a blood clot.

Helderman said the obesity link may relate to the inflammation that the obesity causes in the mother, since inflammation can damage a developing brain, but researchers don't know if that inflammation in the mother is passed along to the baby during pregnancy.

"We weren't really surprised by the socioeconomic factors because it has been repeatedly shown that social disadvantage predicts worse infant outcomes," Helderman said.

But she added that the obesity link was particularly interesting because of the increasing rates of obesity and the fact that it's a condition that can be addressed before a woman becomes pregnant.

A future study is planned to assess the cognitive function of these same children later on in childhood.

The study appears in the March issue of Pediatrics. It was funded by The National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke and the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
March 11, 2012