A mother’s health and lifestyle during pregnancy are important regulators of her child’s neurodevelopment, according to research from the University of Turku and Turku University Hospital. The mother–child study examined how maternal gestational diabetes, obesity and diet during pregnancy affect the development of cognitive, language and motor skills in two-year-old children.
Maternal adiposity was determined by air displacement plethysmography, and gestational diabetes with an oral glucose tolerance test. Dietary intake during pregnancy was assessed with diet quality index and fish consumption questionnaires. The results were published in the journal Pediatric Research.
“On average, child neurodevelopment in our data was in the normal range,” said doctoral researcher Lotta Saros from the University of Turku. “Our research results showed that two-year-old children whose mothers had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes had poorer language skills than children whose mothers had not been diagnosed with gestational diabetes.”
In addition, the study discovered that higher maternal body fat percentage was associated with weaker cognitive, language and motor skills in children. Saros noted, “Previous studies have not examined the association between maternal body composition and children’s neurodevelopment.”
Gestational diabetes and obesity, and high body fat mass in particular, have unfavourable effects on the mother’s metabolism and increase inflammation in the body, the researchers found. These are the likely mechanisms through which the detrimental factors impact the child’s neurodevelopment.
The study also revealed that better dietary quality of the mother’s diet was associated with better language development of the child. A similar finding was also discovered between a mother’s fish consumption and her child’s neurodevelopment.
The results indicate that a good-quality diet contains unsaturated fatty acids that are found, for example, in fish. Soft, unsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, promote the neurodevelopment of children.
“A healthy, comprehensive diet during pregnancy can be particularly beneficial for the neurodevelopment of the children whose mothers belong to the risk group for gestational diabetes due to overweight or obesity,” said Professor Kirsi Laitinen, leader of the research group at the University of Turku that implemented the study.