Babies born to overweight mothers may be at greater risk of developing cerebral palsy, new research shows. Scientists who followed 1.4 million babies born in Sweden between 1997 and 2011 found that more than 3,000 developed the disorder, which the CDC says is the most common childhood motor skills disability. Researchers reported in JAMA that they while found no significant link to babies' birth weight and cerebral palsy, they did see an association to maternal weight in full-term deliveries. The association increased as a mother's body mass index increased, per Medical Xpress. While the risk factor—2 cases out of 1,000 births—may seem low, babies born to mothers severely obese in early pregnancy were twice at risk, says lead researcher Dr. Eduardo Villamor, per HealthDay.
The findings are important "due to the large proportion of women who are overweight or obese worldwide," Villamor says. In the US, half of all expectant moms are overweight at their first neonatal exam, per Medical Xpress. A Columbia University expert tells HealthDay that cerebral palsy is 30% to 40% genetic, but factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes may trigger a genetic predisposition. Although more research is needed, Villamor says losing weight before pregnancy is known to reduce ill effects on children. All the data show that "it's good to get to a healthy weight before pregnancy," an obstetrician tells HealthDay. (Fish oil during pregnancy may cut babies' asthma risk.)