Researchers have determined that maternal weight gain during pregnancy generally does not influence a child’s cognitive development.
The new study is the first to control for numerous factors believed to be associated with gestational weight gain and childhood cognition.
Experts acknowledge that insufficient or excessive weight gain in pregnancy can have negative consequences for fetuses and children, including infant mortality. The Institute of Medicine recently revised gestational weight gain guidelines, recommending that women gain weight within specific weight gain ranges for their Body Mass Index category.
Yet little is known about the association between extremes of gestational weight gain and child cognition.
“One challenge for studies examining gestational weight gain and child outcomes is separating the effect of gestational weight gain from confounders,” said Sarah A. Keim, Ph.D.
“Confounders such as maternal intelligence, whether the family environment promotes cognitive development, family diet and exercise and some genetic factors can influence neurodevelopment postnatal and also gestational weight gain.”
To address these gaps in data, Keim led a study to assess the association between gestational weight gain and the cognitive performance of children at 4 and 7 years of age. The study appears in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Two statistical analysis approaches were used with the more traditional approach adjusted for factors like the mother’s weight before pregnancy, her race and the baby’s sex. The other method used a fixed-effects approach to control for all potential confounding factors shared among siblings, such as a proportion of genetic factors and parenting practices.
Investigators determined genetic factors, rather than gestational weight, influenced cognition.
Keim cautioned that these results do not apply to preterm children and don’t account for all possible confounding factors.
“The strength of our approach is the potential for reduced bias in our estimates,” said Keim. “However, this does not eliminate the possibility of residual confounding from factors siblings do not share. Our findings suggest that gestational weight gain is generally unassociated with child cognitive development.”
Source: Nationwide Children’s Hospital