Thursday, March 8, 2012

Maternal obesity may influence brain development of premature infants


Maternal obesity may contribute to cognitive impairment in extremely premature babies, according to a new study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

"Although in the past decade medical advances have improved the survival rate of babies born at less than seven months, they are still at very high risk for mental developmental delays compared with full-term infants," said Jennifer Helderman, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study. "This study shows that obesity doesn't just affect the mother's health, but might also affect the development of the baby."

Published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics, the study looked at 921 infants born before 28 weeks of gestation during 2002 to 2004 at 14 participating institutions. The researchers assessed the babies' placenta for infection and other abnormalities, interviewed the mothers and reviewed their medical records. At age 2, the children's cognitive skills were evaluated using the Mental Development Index (MDI) portion of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, a commonly used measure.

The scientists found that both maternal obesity and lack of high school education were associated with impaired early cognitive function, as was pre-term thrombosis (blood clot) in the placenta.

"We weren't really surprised by the socioeconomic factors because it has been repeatedly shown that social disadvantage predicts worse infant outcomes," Helderman said. "However, obesity is of particular interest because it is becoming more prevalent and it is potentially modifiable during the pre-conception period and pregnancy."

Obesity has been linked to inflammation, and inflammation can damage the developing brain, Helderman said. What isn't known is if the obesity-related inflammation in the mother is transmitted to the fetus.

"Few studies have addressed prenatal risk factors of cognitive impairment for infants born this prematurely. The long-term goal is to use information from studies like ours to develop treatments that prevent cognitive impairment in extremely premature babies," Helderman said.

Helderman's colleague, Michael O'Shea, M.D., section head of neonatology at Wake Forest Baptist, is currently conducting a study that follows these same babies into mid-childhood to determine long-term cognitive problems.

More than 30,000 extremely premature babies are born each year in the United States.


Friday, March 2, 2012

An Unlikely Bond: Prenatal Health and Dental Hygiene


Oral health doesn’t always top the list of concerns that expectant mothers may have, but it certainly should. Proper dental health and control of oral disease can safeguard a mother’s health before and during pregnancy and reduces the transmission of bacteria from women to their children. According to numerous studies by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, many women do not seek, nor are instructed to seek, proper oral healthcare as part of their routine prenatal care.

“Caring for a pregnant mother’s teeth and gums should start before she becomes pregnant,” said Doron Kochman, DDS and Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatric Dentistry in the Department of Clinical Dentistry, at the University of Rochester Strong Memorial Hospital, and Eastman Dental Center in Rochester, NY. “Ideally, women who are planning to get pregnant should visit their dentists and have any necessary work done before the pregnancy. Mothers should continue to visit their dentists for routine prevention visits during their pregnancies.”

Due to the natural hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, gums are more susceptible to swelling and inflammation. Because of this, bacteria can accumulate causing gum disease and further medical complications for both mother and baby. “We now know that the bacteria responsible for gum disease can also cause problems in places other than the mother’s mouth,” said Kochman. Periodontal disease increases the risk that bacteria will enter the bloodstream, causing potential infections in either mother or baby.

Studies have shown a link between periodontal disease in mothers and an increased chance of delivering premature or low birth weight babies. Because many pregnant women routinely experience swollen and bleeding gums after they brush, they may not recognize a true problem if it exists. Regular check-ups before and during pregnancy are highly recommended.

In addition to prematurity and low birth weight, other problems can result from oral health issues. Studies have suggested that periodontal disease can increase the risk for preeclampsia, a life-threatening disorder caused by high blood pressure which usually occurs mid-to-late pregnancy.

People with diabetes are also more likely to have periodontal disease. Diabetic mothers need to be vigilant about their blood glucose levels to protect their unborn children from fetal obesity, high blood insulin levels and blood disorders, among other conditions.

Furthermore, there is growing evidence that if a mother’s oral hygiene is less than optimal, her baby’s oral health can suffer. “An expectant mother’s diet and oral hygiene can affect her baby's teeth,” said Kochman. “The baby’s teeth start developing in the 5th or 6th week after conception. A mother's balanced diet during pregnancy provides the calcium, phosphorous, other minerals and vitamins needed for the baby’s teeth to form properly.”

Most dentists recommend the following tips for expectant moms:
• Brush at least twice a day to remove plaque buildup
• Floss regularly
• Avoid sugary snacks
• Eat a healthy, balanced diet
• Get regular dental exams (speak to your dentist to see what is right for you)