Direct link between maternal obesity and fetal overgrowth discovered

Obese women, particularly those who have gestational diabetes (high blood sugar during pregnancy) tend to have large babies, according to researchers at Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health. Their study findings were recently published in in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics.

Macrosomia (large body size at birth) is recognized as a cause of fetal and maternal morbidity and mortality. It has also been found to be associated with many complications, including shoulder dystocia (shoulder of the infant gets obstructed during delivery), traumatic birth injuries, and asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the body). “Our results underscore the importance of attaining a healthy body weight before pregnancy,” said the study’s lead author, Cuilin Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher in the Division of Intramural Population Health Research at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “They also suggest that clinicians should carefully monitor the pregnancies of all obese women, regardless of whether or not they have obesity-related health conditions.”

The study could not determine exactly why the fetuses of obese women were larger and heavier than fetuses in the non-obese group. The researchers theorize that because obese women are more likely to have insulin resistance (difficulty using insulin to lower blood sugar), higher blood sugar levels could have promoted overgrowth in their fetuses.

The authors pointed out that earlier studies have indicated that the higher risk of overgrowth seen in newborns of obese women may predispose these infants to obesity and cardiovascular disease later in life. For more information, visit NICHD’s website.

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