Mom's Obesity May Hurt Her Unborn Baby's Immune System

First Posted: May 20, 2015 06:34 AM EDT

It turns out that a mom's obesity may harm her unborn baby. Scientists have found that babies born to obese mothers have compromised immune systems.

"A number of studies have linked maternal obesity-starting pregnancy with excess weight and gaining a lot of weight during pregnancy-to a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease and asthma in children," said Ilhem Messaoudi, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Our study offers potential links between changes in the offspring's immune system and the increased susceptibility and incidence of these diseases later in life."

In this latest study, the researchers wanted to see when exactly the immune systems of babies born to obese mothers become compromised. In order to find out, the researchers analyzed umbilical cord blood samples born to lean, overweight and obese mothers. The researchers used established body mass index (BMI) categories to sort the mothers participating in the study; a mother was considered overweight if her BMI was 25 to 29.9, and was considered obese if her BMI was 30 or higher.

"We found that very specific immune cells in circulation-monocytes and dendritic cells-isolated from babies born to moms with high BMI were unable to respond to bacterial antigens compared to babies born to lean moms," said Messaoudi. "Such babies also showed a reduction in 'CD4 T-cells.' Both of these changes could result in compromised responses to infection and vaccination."

In the end, the researchers found that the compromised immune system occurs very early in a baby's life. It also highlights the importance of weight management when pregnant.

"When moms come in for prenatal visits, doctors tell them about smoking, recreation drug use, and alcohol," said Messaoudi. "But they should be talking also about weight and weight management. Obesity has serious repercussions for maternal health."

The findings are published in the journal Pediatric Allergy and Immunology.

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