Does nutrient intake during pregnancy affect the health of the baby in later life?

Dr Sara White, Prof Lucilla Poston, Mr Paul Seed, Dr Angela Flynn, Dr Carolyn Gill, Ms Anna Brockbank, Ms Wenneke van Weelden, Dr Flavia Flaviani, Prof Karen Lillcyrop, Prof Keith Godrey

Our researchers want to shed light on the complex relationship between a mother’s diet during pregnancy and the health of their child in later life.

Why do we need this research?

Diabetes diagnosed during pregnancy – known as gestational diabetes – can lead to health problems for both mother and baby. Scientists also think that it can have an impact on the child’s health in later life too. However, the relationship between a pregnant woman’s diet and their child’s health is complex, especially for mothers with gestational diabetes. We need to learn more about the long-term consequences of pregnancy complications for children.

What’s happening in this project?

Researchers funded by Tommy’s are interested in whether a mother’s lifestyle during pregnancy can have lasting effects on the health of their baby when they’re older. They want to know whether children can be genetically ‘programmed’ while still in the womb to develop certain health conditions later in life.

Previous research has shown that a mother’s diet during pregnancy, specifically levels of nutrients called folate and vitamin B12, can affect her risk of developing gestational diabetes. Researchers in the UPBEAT trial have also found that babies of mothers with gestational diabetes have changes in the DNA of their umbilical cord blood. These are not changes to the genetic code written into DNA, but chemical changes happening all the time in our bodies which affect how ‘active’ parts of the DNA are.

Our researchers therefore want to study whether there is a link between the folate and vitamin B12 in the mother’s diet, and any changes in their baby’s DNA.

The team are using samples taken during the UPBEAT trial, which involved more than 1,500 obese pregnant women. They have measured the folate and vitamin B12 levels in nearly 1,000 blood samples donated by women in the UPBEAT trial. They are also looking for changes to the DNA in cord blood samples collected from over 550 babies born to these mothers.

What difference will this project make?

The relationship between a mother’s diet and the health of their baby is complex, particularly for mothers with obesity or gestational diabetes. This research will shed some light on this relationship and could lead to ways to help mothers and their children lead healthy lives.

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Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. We can keep you updated on our research news. If you're interested in being kept updated about our research and news from Tommy's, click here.

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