Health and wellbeing research projects

During pregnancy there are some behaviours, such as smoking, over-eating and being sedentary, that can have an adverse effect on the baby. Discover our health and wellbeing in pregnancy research projects here.

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Tommy’s health and wellbeing research

During pregnancy there are some behaviours, such as smoking, over-eating and being sedentary, that can have an adverse effect on the baby. These effects cannot be underestimated - they go beyond the immediate effect on the baby in the womb and at birth to DNA programming that can effect the future health of a generation. What the mother eats during pregnancy, for example, can effect on their child's risk of obesity in later life. 

We fund projects that further the body of evidence available to the bodies, such as NICE, who make recommendations on the information that should be given to pregnant women.

We also research the best ways to deliver information and interventions to hard-to-reach groups, such as young women, who are more at risk of pregnancy complications due to lifestyle issues.

Some recent health and well-being research projects 

Running is safe in pregnancy

Many women who are keen runners are not sure whether running during pregnancy will harm their baby, and to date there’s been no conclusive evidence either way. Our scientists in London have now proved through a trial called Recreational running in pregnancy that running is safe in pregnancy. It can, in fact, be recommended as a form of healthy exercise. This will be reassuring news for many women.

Read more about Recreational running in pregnancy (SPORT)

Reaching young women with smoking cessation messages

Smoking in pregnancy greatly increases the risk of stillbirth - it is the single most important modifiable risk factor in pregnancy. With funding from the Department of Health, we are developing a stop smoking intervention that is:

  • targeted specifically at young pregnant women
  • non-judgemental
  • convenient and cost-effective
  • sustainable.

The current pathway for quitting smoking (eg stop smoking services) is not meeting the needs of this group evidenced by the low referral rates and the high rate of young women who smoke in their pregnancies (2012 IFS). Yet babies born to mothers aged under 20 are 60% more likely to die than children born to older mothers and have a 25% greater likelihood of being born too early or too small.

Read more about Reaching young women with smoking cessation messages

Improving the nutritional status of pregnant teenagers

We are partners in this study, funded by MRC, that is looking at ways to improve the diet and nutrition of pregnant teenagers.

Teenage girls have the poorest quality diets of any population group in the UK. Coupled with the demands of a growing baby and their own rising nutritional needs, this increases their risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes. Previous research shows that pregnant teenagers want to improve their diets and trust advice from their midwives. Midwives however struggle to find opportunities to discuss diet and nutrition and often lack the confidence and knowledge to do so.

In partnership with pregnant teenagers and midwives, this project is looking to develop a theoretically-driven, evidence-based intervention to provide pregnant teenagers with tailored support for sustaining improvements to their diets between appointments with a midwife trained in skills to support behaviour change. 

Read more about Improving the nutritional status of pregnant teenagers

Pregnancy and maternal weight

Our centre in Edinburgh is dedicated to analysing the relationship between pregnancy outcome and obesity. This is extremely important if we’re to improve pregnancy outcomes in the UK as almost half the women of childbearing age are now obese or overweight.

We are investigating why some babies don't grow properly in the womb and how conditions experienced during pregnancy might `programme' the offspring to have greater risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes later in life.

The Edinburgh Antenatal Metabolic Clinic was established by Tommy's in 2008 to address such questions. The clinic provides multidisciplinary antenatal care to severely obese pregnant women, including advice about diet and lifestyle. We are also carrying out a detailed study of the women who attend our clinic to look at their weight gain and change in body composition during pregnancy, and how this affects their babies.

Read more about the Edinburgh antenatal metabolic clinic

The effect of early nutrition on later life

The Tommy’s London centre is involved in several parts of the large multinational EU study known as EarlyNutrition, which is addressing the long-term effects of early nutrition on later life.

As part of this Professor Poston is leading a number of intervention studies in pregnant women or in infants. 

We are investigating why some babies don't grow properly in the womb and how conditions experienced during pregnancy might `programme' the offspring to have greater risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes later in life.

It is known that genetic changes can cause certain diseases but in recent years it has become clear that environmental factors might also increase the risk of disease in the offspring by changing the way that genes work (‘epigenetic’ changes), without actually causing mutations. 

The effects of stress in pregnancy

Mental wellbeing has been shown to have an effect on pregnancy, the postnatal period and the baby in later life. We funded the first study of antenatal yoga in the UK and the first worldwide to investigate how both single and multiple sessions of yoga can effect mood and stress hormone levels among healthy pregnant women.

This study, funded by Tommy’s and carried out in Manchester and Stockport by myself and colleagues, showed that antenatal yoga can reduce stress hormone levels and reduce maternal anxiety through a combination of breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques and physical postures, all within a supportive group setting. A single session of yoga was found to reduce self-reported anxiety by one third and stress hormone levels by 14%. Encouragingly, similar findings were made at both the first and final session of the eight-week intervention. 

Read more about how yoga can help make pregnancy stress-free

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