A woman’s weight in early pregnancy may influence how well her baby is able to self-regulate during the first months and years of life, according to a new Finnish study published in the journal Pediatric Research.
Earlier research has shown that one in every five infants struggles to self-regulate in the first year of life. This means that these infants may cry excessively, have problems feeding or difficulties falling asleep unless soothed by a caregiver.
As these children grow older, they often have behavioral and neurodevelopmental problems such as hyperactivity or difficulties concentrating, as well as having poorer muscle function. Some have lower IQs or are placed on the autism spectrum.
According to the authors, there is a one in five chance that overweight or obese women will have babies who suffer from multiple regulatory problems. These infants may also show a delay in some developmental milestones by the time they reach childhood.
The goal of the study was to determine whether a mother’s weight during early pregnancy influences her child’s neurodevelopment. Researchers from the University of Helsinki in Finland drew on data from 3,117 women from different Finnish towns who had given birth between 2006 and 2010. All participants were part of the Prediction and Prevention of Pre-eclampsia and Intrauterine Growth Restriction (PREDO) study.
Medical data was collected regarding the participants’ weight during the first few months of their pregnancies, and whether they suffered from high blood pressure or gestational diabetes during this period.
Up to three months after delivery, the women then reported their babies’ ability to regulate and calm themselves. Follow-up evaluations of the children’s developmental milestones were conducted between 2011 and 2012.
In general, women who were overweight or obese tended to be older mothers and were more likely to deliver their babies through a caesarean section. They were also less likely to have post-secondary education. Quite often they decided to stop smoking when they first learned they were pregnant.
When the infants were 17 days old, those whose mothers were overweight were already more likely to be struggling with self-regulation. In fact, babies of overweight or obese moms were 22 percent more likely to have these issues.
The research team confirmed that weight was the primary factor, and not whether the mom had high blood pressure or gestational diabetes.
In conclusion, the findings reveal that regulatory problems in infancy may have prenatal origins that can be attributed at least partially to mothers being overweight or obese, said lead author Polina Girchenko, a doctoral student of the University of Helsinki.
“We suggest that the prevention of weight problems in women of childbearing age may benefit their later offspring and could reduce the burden of regulatory problems in infancy and prevent their long-term neurodevelopmental consequences,” Girchenko said.