Maternal obesity linked to delays in mental development in very preterm infants

Maternal and newborn health research has linked women's obesity with delays in mental development among very preterm infants.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics and conducted by a team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in the US showed babies born under seven months' gestation may be at a higher risk of impairment to early cognitive function if their mother is overweight.

The researchers investigated the cases of 921 babies delivered before they had completed 28 weeks in the womb, testing them using the Mental Development Index once they reached the age of two.

Interviews were also conducted with the mothers of the children, while the placenta was checked for infection and abnormalities and maternal medical records were reviewed.

Being obese during pregnancy, a woman's lack of high school education and preterm thrombosis were associated with impaired cognitive function in the youngsters.

Dr Jennifer Helderman, lead author of the study and assistant professor of paediatrics at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, suggested the mother being overweight could cause inflammation that damages the brain of the foetus, but it is not yet known whether this is the case.

"The long-term goal is to use information from studies like ours to develop treatments that prevent cognitive impairment in extremely premature babies," she stated.

It is thought higher maternal weight can help protect against premature birth, but a study conducted by a team at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in the US recently discovered weight gain in the first and second trimester of pregnancy does not seem to have this effect.