Pregnant mothers who are obese could be storing up health problems for their baby after birth, according to Welsh academics.
Obesity among mothers could cause health problems in babies including high-blood pressure, asthma and bacterial infections, said Dr Catherine Thornton, a senior lecturer in newborn immunity at the Institute of Life Science at Swansea University.
Poor diet and weight problems among new mothers could cause inflammation of the tissues of both the mother and baby, which in turn affects the health of the child.
Wales already has the highest rates of obese and smoking mothers-to-be in the UK – with one in 15 pregnant women in Wales severely obese.
Dr Thornton told the Western Mail: “There are serious concerns with the number of obese women and the impact of that on the delivery of obstetric services.
“There are a number of suspected obstetric outcomes that we can see in babies being born – problems both for the mothers, infants themselves and in pregnancy itself.
“There is a bigger risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, respiratory problems. There are lots of diseases that used to be prevalent in adults, that we are now finding in paediatric populations.
“The worry is: are there other disorders that we have not yet even contemplated?
“The increase in women having children while overweight or obese has repercussions for the children being born, and has the potential to be a health service epidemic.”
Dr Thornton said that an increased body mass index (BMI) in a mother was associated with an increased risk of early-onset Group B streptococcus (GBS) infection – “strep-B” – which can affect one in 2,000 babies born every year in the UK, and respiratory tract infections.
Writing in the Advances in Neuroimmune Biology journal, Dr Thornton said immune responses between mother and child a “very modern epidemic”.
Dr Thornton is leading research into inflammation at the points of contact between a mother and a baby and the link with obesity in pregnancy.
Health minister Lesley Griffiths warned last year that every pregnant woman in Wales should be given advice to tackle the worryingly-high incidence of obesity, smoking and drinking.
Previous research from Cambridge University revealed a gene – Hnf4a – which has been linked to type-2 diabetes, and was regulated by maternal diet, through modifications to DNA.
Dr Thornton warned that Wales had a “specific problem” due to the higher incidence of obesity in motherhood.
“It is going to be more prevalent, there will be more problems in populations with a higher incidence of obesity,” she said.
“This is the case for any country where obesity problems occur – for America and a raft of developed countries. In Wales it will be particularly problematic.”
The Swansea University research will look at the correlation between obesity and health problems with birth, which much of the study looking at samples taken from umbilical cord blood and examining the differences in hormone response, as well as how common follow-up medical consultations and treatment occurs.
Bryan Beattie, an expert in foetal medicine and a consultant obstetrician who runs Cardiff-based Innermost Secrets, said: “Obesity is bad for mum and bad for baby but sadly there’s a complete epidemic of obesity in pregnancy in the UK.
“Obesity compromises the ability to assess women; scanning is more difficult making it harder to pick up any abnormalities – the chances of picking up abnormalities is lower. Because the risk of still birth is higher, these women should have scans every month after their 20-week scan.
“Women are at increased risk of developing a deep vein thrombosis; it’s harder to assess the position of the baby in labour.
“There’s an increased risk of diabetes to the mother and the baby, a risk of hypertension and pre-eclampsia.
“There are also major risks if the woman needs a Caesarean section and can be wound-healing problems.”