Excess pounds gained between and during pregnancy can be detrimental to both the mom’s health and the developing fetus. The November 2013 edition of Obstetrics & Gynecology contained a study that reported that putting on pounds between pregnancies increases the risk of a bad outcome for both mom and baby. On October 28, the online edition of the journal Pediatrics presented a study that reported that excess pregnancy weight gain is associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder. The research was conducted by scientists affiliated with the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah).
The study in Obstetrics& Gynecology noted that the following adverse outcomes were related to weight gain between pregnancies: gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH; toxemia), cesarean delivery, macrosomia (a large infant weighing 4,000 grams (8 pounds, 13 ounces) or more), low birth weight (less than 2,500 grams (5 pounds, 8 ounces)), and congenital malformations. The study in Pediatrics noted the association between excess weight gain and autism spectrum disorder; it also suggested that mom’s excess weight gain was a sign that she might be carrying an autistic child.
The University of Utah researchers note that the number of individuals suffering from autism spectrum disorder was on the rise in the United States. Thus, they conducted a study to determine why this was occurring. They theorized that an abnormality of the fetal steroid hormone environment together with genetic factors might be responsible. They explained that the fetal steroid environment comprises the mother, the fetus, and the placenta. The investigators designed a study to evaluate whether both excess prepregnancy weight and weight gain during pregnancy were associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder.
The study group comprised several groups: (1) 128 children of mothers who resided in three Utah counties who were matched for age and gender with 10,920 control subjects; and (2) A group of 288 Utah children with autism spectrum disorder and 493 unaffected siblings. Prenatal factors were reviewed from birth certificate records.
The investigators found that the risk of autism spectrum disorder was significantly associated with pregnancy weight gain and that the risk increased with each five pounds of weight gain; however, they did not find an increased risk among children of mothers who were overweight before pregnancy.
The authors concluded that the risk of autism spectrum disorder modestly but consistently increased with excess weight gain during pregnancy. They noted that their study suggested that autism can develop during pregnancy and that pregnancy weight gain may serve as a key marker for this process. They suggested further studies should be conducted to clarify the link between pregnancy weight gain and autism spectrum disorder independent of prepregnancy weight status.
An autism spectrum disorder affects a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It usually appears before the age of three. There is no cure for the condition; however, early treatment can make a big difference in the child’s development. Autistic children usually have problems in three essential areas of development: social interaction, language and behavior. However, autism symptoms and severity vary greatly; thus, two children with the same diagnosis may act quite differently and have markedly different abilities. In general, however, most children with autism spectrum disorder have impairments in their ability to communicate or interact with other people.
Take home message:
The two studies presented in this report suggest the detrimental effects of excess weight gain on both mom and baby. Beyond pregnancy, excess poundage can have numerous detrimental effects on one’s health such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Thus, if you have excess poundage, shed it before attempting a pregnancy. Then, watch your weight during pregnancy, as well as the interval between pregnancies.