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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.

Baby with a tape measure

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.

Read the full story on the University of Oxford website.