Maternal Weight, Diabetes May Affect Infant Lung Function

Infants born to overweight mothers have less developed lungs.

Infants born to mothers who are overweight, obese, or have diabetes during pregnancy may have compromised lung function, according to a new study published by The Journal of Physiology. These infants were found to have less mature lungs compared with babies of normal weight mothers.

Previous studies have linked high weight gain and diabetes during pregnancy with infants who have lung problems at birth and during childhood.

Healthy lungs produce surfactant, which prevents the airway from sticking together and fights bacteria and viruses. Immature lungs produce less of the substance, which prevents the lungs from functioning normally.

In the study, the authors fed pregnant sheep a normal diet or a diet that provided 55% more energy. The high-energy diet modeled over-nutrition and obesity, according to the study. The sheep were fed this diet during the last trimester, where the final stages of lung development occur.

The investigators evaluated the lungs of the lambs before birth and 1 month after birth to determine growth in the lungs. Additionally, the authors analyzed the cells that make surfactant to examine the difference among the lambs.

Offspring from sheep that were fed the high-energy diet were observed to have reduced surfactant compared with offspring from normal weight mothers, according to the study. The authors also noted that offspring to mothers fed the high-energy diet had less cells producing the substance.

However, after 1 month, the amount of surfactant was observed to be normalized. These results suggest that the long-term effect of overweight, obesity, and diabetes on lung function in infants is unclear, according to the study.

“These findings suggest it may be advisable for overweight, obese and diabetic pregnant women to be provided with treatments to help mature their babies' lungs before they give birth,” said senior author Janna Morrison, PhD. “It may also be advisable for care providers to counsel overweight, obese and diabetic women to manage these states before becoming pregnant to improve the health of their unborn baby."

Gestational diabetes has also been linked to numerous other health problems, including pre-term birth and high birth weight. Ensuring healthy weight gain and controlling blood glucose levels may be an effective way to prevent adverse events for infants.

“Further studies will follow up with the offspring later in life to see if there is a higher risk of breathing problems,” Dr Morrison concluded.