in several countries have found links between disease risk and fetal
growth rates. The fetal origin hypothesis says that human development
is controlled by a combination of pre-determined genetic switches
and fetal responses to intrauterine environmental challenges. Intrauterine
environmental challenges often result in low birth weight (LBW) or
the condition known as intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR). Controllable
environmental challenges that contribute to LBW and IUGR are:
Lack of prenatal care
Late entry into prenatal care
Maternal periodontal (gum) disease
Inadequate maternal weight gain during pregnancy
Inadequate preconception and/or prenatal maternal nutrition
Maternal smoking during pregnancy
Exposure to second hand smoke during pregnancy
Maternal substance use during pregnancy.
Research shows that infants with LBW or IUGR are more likely to develop
disease in later life than infants born with normal birth weight.
Male infants, with LBW or IUGR, that gain weight rapidly before age
one seem to be at the highest risk. Researchers believe that LBW and
IUGR infants have fewer muscle cells at birth; therefore, rapid weight
gain during the first year of life can then lead to high proportion
of fat to muscle (above average body mass). The combination of LBW
or IUGR and above average body mass increases the risk for developing
many adult diseases.
diseases with the clearest connections to LBW or IUGR and above
average body mass are Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular
disease, and stroke. These connections have been identified in several
hundred studies conducted around the world. These studies have looked
at the adult health of infants born from the early 1900’s
through the 1950’s.
a recent study, Professor David Barker of Southampton University found
that men are twice as likely to die from coronary heart disease if
they were LBW or IUGR at birth and had above average body mass during
childhood. The risk of stroke, hypertension, and Type 2 Diabetes is
greater for both men and women who were LBW or IUGR infants and developed
above average body mass during childhood.
can reduce the risk that LBW or IUGR infants will develop chronic
disease in adulthood by preventing the development of above average
body mass. Breastfeeding for at least 12 months cuts the risk in
half for developing above average body mass during childhood. This
is extremely important since above average body mass coupled with
LBW or IUGR increases risk for Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular
disease, and stroke.
overall health of the world can be improved if fewer infants are born
with low birth weight and intrauterine growth retardation and more
infants are breastfed for at least 12 months. Women who have adequate
preconception and prenatal services and education are more likely
to have babies with normal birth weights and more likely to be able
to breastfeed successfully. Contact your medical provider, the county
health department, the March of Dimes, or your local Colorado State
University Extension office for more information about
preconception health, prenatal health and breastfeeding.