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New research published in PNAS provides crucial insight into the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, particularly by breastfeeding.
Published today in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) (link here), the research looked at data from two long-term studies involving nearly 9000 pregnant and nursing mothers – the Washington University Birth Defects and Washington University Preterm Births – and compared them to 622 healthy, well-nourished, non-obese mothers born prematurely (384 of them). The mothers’ weight, blood sugar levels, body composition, and overall metabolism were calculated to estimate the baby’s weight without feeding.
Despite the study having found no link between obesity and preterm birth, maternal ingestion of a fat and sugar rich diet during pregnancy was associated with individual baby’s developing metabolism before birth. Although the relationship between diet and metabolism was strong, there was no relationship between preterm birth and significant differences in brain development.
Other important findings included:The analysis did find that preterm birth is the “signature” of a preterm birth, although the finding had not been considered in past analyses with a more similar group of women.
A steroid that is used to increase the mother’s milk supply since the birth – known as the “pathogen effect” – was found to be strongly associated with preterm birth. “Our study confirms what a lot of scientists have been saying for 40 plus years, which is that preterm birth is due to a combination of obesity and respiratory conditions during pregnancy, ” said Dr. Nina Schmitt from the Department of Neonatology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Our data set, coupled with detailed wealth of knowledge about both mothers and babies, is still the gold standard for exploring the relationship. “Preterm birth is now considered the most significant factor determined by weighed reference standards. Yet, a subset of a select population of highly obese, non-obese white mothers with surgical histories had preterm birth, which would have been accepted by most standards, or low birthweight infants (up to one year of age).