Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

A new study, led by researchers at the University of Oxford, UK, in collaboration with the University of California, Berkeley, USA, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology identifies, as early as the 5th month of pregnancy, patterns of fetal abdominal growth associated with maternal lipid metabolites that track newborn growth, adiposity and development into childhood.

New research demonstrates how maternal fat metabolism very early in pregnancy and fetal abdominal growth influence child weight and adiposity by 2 years of age © Shutterstock

• The study, in six countries, followed 3,500 babies and their mothers from early pregnancy to childhood
• The growth of the fetal abdomen is influenced by the mother’s blood lipid metabolites very early in pregnancy
• Both the growth of the fetal abdomen and the mother’s blood lipid metabolites very early in pregnancy influence the child’s weight and body fat at 2 years of age
• The findings could lead to earlier identification of infants at risk of overweight and obesity - one of the most pressing global public health issues

These fetal growth patterns are also associated with blood flow and nutrient transfer by the placenta, demonstrating a complex interaction between maternal and fetal nutrition early in pregnancy that influences postnatal weight and eventually adult health.

The researchers monitored the growth inside the womb of over 3,500 babies in six countries (Brazil, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, Thailand, and the United Kingdom) using serial fetal ultrasound scans throughout pregnancy, and analysed blood samples taken from the women early in pregnancy and from the umbilical cord at birth. They then monitored the growth and development of the infants until 2 years of age.

José Villar, Professor of Perinatal Medicine at the University of Oxford, who co-led the study said: ‘This is the first comprehensive evidence, across geographic populations, of the complex interaction between maternal and fetal metabolism that regulates, early in pregnancy, unique fetal trajectories linked specifically to weight, adiposity and development during childhood. The study complements our previous work that identified fetal head growth trajectories associated with different developmental, behavioural, visual and growth outcomes at 2 years of age. In simple terms: the growth of babies’ bodies and brain track separately and early - while still within the womb’.

Read the full story on the University of Oxford website. 

Similar stories

New small molecule found to suppress the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria

Researchers from the Ineos Oxford Institute for antimicrobial research (IOI) and the Department of Pharmacology at Oxford University, have developed a new small molecule that can suppress the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and make resistant bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics.