Exposure to common pregnancy complications unlikely to lead to harmful molecular changes across a baby’s life
A large international study has found broadly similar molecular profiles across life in people born after exposure to common pregnancy and perinatal complications and those not exposed to common pregnancy and perinatal complications.
Some women experience health problems during pregnancy. Among common complications of pregnancy are high blood pressure without high levels of protein in the woman’s urine (gestational hypertension), high blood pressure with high levels of protein in their urine that might be indicative of kidney damage (pre-eclampsia), high blood sugar that develops in pregnancy and usually disappears after giving birth (gestational diabetes), their infant being born before 37 weeks of pregnancy (preterm birth), and being born small or large for their gestational age (a baby that is born smaller or larger than the usual size for the number of weeks of pregnancy).
Research suggests that these complications might lead to a worse cardiovascular health profile for the baby during their childhood and beyond. However, their links with underlying molecular traits related to cardiovascular health in early and later life have not been examined. This is what this new study set out to find.
The researchers analysed harmonised data on more than 24,000 people aged from newborns to people in their 60s. The participants were recruited from across nine birth cohort studies in the UK, Finland, Netherlands, and Australia, including from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, the Northern Finland Birth Cohorts, and the Generation R Study. The child’s exposure to complications of pregnancy was extracted from medical records or was reported by the mothers’ using questionnaires. Blood samples were then taken from each participant and analysed to measure levels of more than 150 molecules that reflected features such as cholesterol, amino acids, fluid balance, and inflammation. The researchers grouped the participants by age to assess how common pregnancy and perinatal complications might relate to the molecular profile in newborns, infants, children, adolescents, and adults.
The study’s main finding was that exposure to common pregnancy and perinatal complications was related to differences in only a few molecules, with most of these differences only found in newborns and not at older ages. These findings are reassuring as they suggest little evidence of wide-spread and long-term impact of the common pregnancy and perinatal complications on the baby’s molecular profile across life. This evidence should also help to reduce concerns in mothers (and their partners and offspring) who have experienced these pregnancy related complications.
Elhakeem A, Ronkainen J, Mansell T, et al. Effect of common pregnancy and perinatal complications on offspring metabolic traits across the life course: a multi‑cohort study. BMC Medicine. 2023, 21(23). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-022-02711-8
This project was a collaboration between multiple EU projects that received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreements No. 733206 (LifeCycle), No. 874739 (LongITools) and No. 101021566 (A.R.T-HEALTH Partnership).