Opinion

Study shows new factors that influence baby size

A new study suggests that a mothers' education level and overall health influence baby size.

1BabyNamesChallenge-October2013-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

A large international study has revealed that babies born to healthy mothers all over the world have one thing in common—their size.

The Intergrowth study analyzed 60,000 women and their babies and found that infants born to well-educated women who ate well are of similar size all over the world.

This large-scale study throws into doubt the notion that race and ethnicity were main factors influencing a baby’s size—but instead it suggests that it’s due to disparities in health and wealth. This means that overall health, education, nutrition and the primary care of pregnant women affect the baby’s size much more than where a baby is born.

Read more: Is birth weight related to ethnicity?>

“Currently we are not all equal at birth. But we can be,” says lead author Professor Jose Villar of the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Oxford. “We can create a similar start for all by making sure mothers are well-educated and nourished, by treating infection and by providing adequate antenatal care.”

“Don’t tell us nothing can be done,” says Villar. “Don’t say that women in some parts of the world have small children because they are predestined to do so. It’s simply not true.”

Read more: Baby weight gain in the first year>

One of the goals of the study is to set the standard internationally of healthy newborn growth—and part of the challenge is creating standardized growth charts. For the study, clinics all used the same practices and equipment in all of its eight study sites. The clinicians started measuring for bone growth at 12 weeks using ultrasounds. The study was conducted in Brazil, China, India, Italy, Kenya, Oman, the UK and the US using a team of 300 health professionals and 200 researchers and clinicians.

Small size at birth can have a large impact on health in infancy and childhood, and also increases the risks of heart disease and diabetes in adults.

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman