Pregnant mother
(IN PHOTO)A pregnant woman arrives for a doctors appointment at a clinic in Shanghai September 12, 2014. REUTERS

A new study has established the fact that maternal obesity is the cause for weakened immune system in infants at the time of birth thereby increasing their susceptibility to illness. The study findings published in the journal Pediatric Allergy and Immunology act as the evidence for the claims made by past studies, which link maternal obesity to increased risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and preterm birth.

The lead study author, Ilhem Messaoudi, of the University of California-Riverside, and his team of researchers investigated the effect of maternal body weight on the immune system of newborns in 39 mothers and their infants who were enrolled for the study. The body mass index or BMI of each mother was recorded before categorising them into three groups: Lean, overweight or obese. They also collected the umbilical cord blood samples from these mothers' infants for analysing the immune cell population and their circulation.

Messaoudi says, “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. Such babies also showed a reduction in 'CD4 T-cells.' Both of these changes could result in compromised responses to infection and vaccination.”

Eosinophils, which play an important part in allergic response and pathogenesis of asthma were also found to be in dwindling numbers in the umbilical cord blood of babies born to obese mothers. This finding can provide a potential explanation for increased incidence of asthma observed in children born to obese mothers later in their life.

Messaoudi further adds ,"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.” This study is first of its kind to indicate a link between maternal obesity during pregnancy and to identify the changes in immune system that are detectable in newborns capable of making them vulnerable to disease in their adulthood.

The researchers in their concluding note have stressed that any woman who is pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant must have a talk with their physician about weight management in order to ensure a good health for herself and her baby.

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