Mother’s health, not ethnicity, affects size of baby

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Scientists have indicated that newborn babies who are born to well nourished, healthy mothers are similar in size globally.

A global study found that on average, their body length is 49.4 centimetres (19.45 inches).

Previous studies suggested that ethnicity played a large role in the variation in the size of babies born around the globe. This new research indicates that ethnicity and race contribute very little to the overall size of the baby. What is stressed as being more important is the education, nutrition and health of mothers, and the pre-natal care they have received.

Population differences attributed no more than 4% of the difference in birth size and foetal growth.

Scientists who formed part of the Intergrowth-21st study looked at around 60000 pregnancies in urban areas of the US, UK, China, Italy, Oman, Brazil, India and Kenya. They carried out ultrasound scans to assess the bone growth of the babies in the womb, and at birth, each baby’s head circumference and body length was measured.

The lead researcher from the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Oxford University, Professor Jose Villar, said that currently everyone is not equal at birth, but they could be. A similar start to life can be created for all babies by ensuring that mothers are well educated and nourished, by providing good antenatal care and treating infection.

He said that women in certain parts of the world are not predestined to have small babies.

It is estimated that during 2010, 32.4 million babies were born undernourished in low to middle income countries. This is representative of 27% of all live global births.

Small birth size is linked with infant illness and death, along with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes during later life.

Foetal growth and the size of newborns is currently being evaluated in worldwide clinics by the use of at least 100 varying growth charts.

Professor Stephen Kennedy, of the Oxford team, said that this causes confusion for both doctors and mothers and it makes no sense biologically. He stated that it does not make sense for a foetus or newborn to be judges as being small in one medical setting and being treated accordingly, but if the mother was to go to another town or country, she would be told that her baby is growing normally.

The aim of Intergrowth-21st is to offer international standards regarding the ideal growth of a foetus and from birth through to five years.

A co-author of the report from the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta, said that the fact that babies grow in a similar fashion in the womb when the mother is healthy, regardless of where they are globally, is a positive message of hope for all females and their families. However, there is a challenge that needs to be faced. She said that there are implications to the method of thought surrounding public health as it concerns future citizens of the planet. She stated that all those who have responsibility in health care should consider providing the best possible child and maternal health.

Image Credit: Children’s Bureau Centennial

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