Mom’s Heart Health While Pregnant Could Influence Her Child’s Health for Years

The findings, published Feb. 16 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, are based on 2,300 mother-child pairs from several countries, including the United States. The researchers assessed mothers’ cardiovascular risk factors during the 28th week of pregnancy, looking at their blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, weight and smoking habits.

The investigators then assessed those same factors (minus smoking) in their children at the ages of 10 to 14.

Overall, one-third of pregnant women were deemed to have optimal cardiovascular health, while 6% had two or more risk factors. Years later, children born to moms in that latter group were nearly eight times more likely to have multiple risk factors, versus kids whose mothers had been in optimal health during pregnancy.

 

Those odds were three times higher among kids whose mothers had one risk factor.

Dr. Stephen Daniels, who wrote an editorial accompanying the report, said that he thinks the study is “really important.”

At one time, it was thought that all babies start off with a “clean slate” in terms of cardiovascular health, said Daniels, pediatrician-in-chief at Children’s Hospital Colorado, in Aurora.

But in more recent years, research has been indicating that exposures in the womb may set children up with varying levels of cardiovascular health at birth, he noted.

Like Parikh, Daniels said that does not mean kids’ health is predetermined. And, he added, “this is not about blaming mothers.”

Instead, it’s possible that helping women go into pregnancy as healthy as possible could have ripple effects for their children, Daniels said. And if more teenagers were in optimal cardiovascular health, that could translate into fewer heart attacks and strokes years later.

In a study last year, Perak and her colleagues found evidence of that.

People who were in good cardiovascular health in their late teens had very low rates of premature heart disease or stroke over the next 32 years. And their odds of those ills were about 85% lower, versus young people who already had risk factors like elevated blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar.

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Daniels pointed to other research showing that if people make it to age 50 free of major risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes, they have a very low lifetime risk of heart disease or stroke.

“The problem is, not many people do reach age 50 with no risk factors,” Daniels said.

So prevention has to start early, possibly even in the womb.

“Mothers’ health during pregnancy may be even more important than we’ve appreciated,” Daniels said.

Perak encouraged women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy to talk to their doctor about how to “optimize” their diet, exercise and sleep habits, and get help with quitting smoking if needed.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has advice on staying healthy during pregnancy.