Foetal development in the womb can affect a child’s chances of developing allergies or wheezing

In an attempt to understand more about the influence that a baby’s growth in the womb will have on its health in later life, researchers from the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit based at Southampton General Hospital studied more than 1,500 three year-old children who were taking part in the Southampton Women's Survey, the UK's largest study of women and their offspring. The Survey has studied how a woman's diet and lifestyle before and during pregnancy affects their baby's growth in the womb, and is monitoring how these early life influences determine health and development during childhood.

The team discovered evidence of sensitivity to common allergens in 27% of children who had developed quickly in early pregnancy but faltered later in pregnancy, as compared with 4% in those with a slow early growth trajectory and quicker growth in late pregnancy.

It is already known that a baby's growth in the womb has an important influence on susceptibility to obesity and heart disease in later life, but this research provides some of the most direct evidence yet that changes in how the baby's immune system and lungs develops before birth can predispose them to some of the commonest childhood illnesses.

K. C. Pike, S. R. Crozier, J. S. A. Lucas, H. M. Inskip, S. Robinson, G. Roberts, K. M. Godfrey. Patterns of fetal and infant growth are related to atopy and wheezing disorders at age 3 years Thorax 2010

First published in October 2010

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