Obesity during pregnancy linked with higher cerebral palsy risk for baby

10 March 2017

Being overweight when you’re pregnant can increase your risk of giving birth to a child with cerebral palsy.

A new study looked at the births of more than one million children born to Swedish women and found that a mother’s weight can have a negative impact on her baby.

Cerebral palsy is the general term for a number of neurological conditions that affect movement and co-ordination, and is caused by a problem in the parts of the brain responsible for controlling muscles. The condition can occur if the brain develops abnormally or is damaged before, during or shortly after birth.

"The overall risk of cerebral palsy was about two cases per 1,000 babies born," said lead researcher Dr. Eduardo Villamor, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan. "Women with the most severe forms of obesity who have babies born at full term may have about twice that risk.

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"Considering the high prevalence of obesity and the continued rise of its most severe forms, the finding that maternal overweight and obesity are related to rates of cerebral palsy in a dose-response manner may have serious public health implications.”

Dr. Villamor added that his findings, published in JAMA, only show a link between a woman's weight during pregnancy and the risk of cerebral palsy, not that maternal obesity causes the condition.

"Although the effect of maternal obesity on cerebral palsy may seem small compared with other risk factors, the association is of public health relevance due to the large proportion of women who are overweight or obese worldwide," he said.

The NHS lists other possible causes of cerebral palsy as an infection caught by the mother during pregnancy, a difficult or premature birth, bleeding in the baby’s brain and changes (mutations) in the genes that affect the brain's development.

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