Touching Lives - February 2007
Reducing the risks to babies of teenage mums
They are also particularly susceptible to having a small baby with an abnormally low birth weight, and to giving birth prematurely.
Effects on the baby can be devastating. For example, very small babies are 60 per cent more likely to suffer health problems or to die at birth. Many need neonatal intensive care, and can go on to suffer lifelong disabilities. Research also shows that babies with low birth weight are at increased risk of suffering long-term health problems that begin later in life, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Dr Rebecca Jones, and her colleagues Professors Colin Sibley, Philip Baker and John Challis, have been awarded an Action Medical Research grant of £104,008 to conduct detailed laboratory studies of placentas taken from 100 teenage mothers. ^The team plan to find out how the placenta is affected if a teenager is still growing during her pregnancy.^
They think the mother’s growth might compromise the development and functioning of the placenta, and could lead to competition between mother and baby for critical nutrients. They will also study the effect of the mother’s diet on the placenta, as some teenage mothers tend to have poor diets, deficient in key nutrients.
This study, which is partly funded by Healthsure Group Limited Charitable Trust, is taking place at the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester, renowned for its cutting-edge, clinically-orientated scientific research into pregnancy complications. It follows on from a separate study into teenage nutrition, called About Teenage Eating which is taking place in hospitals in Manchester and London.
In the short-term, this study should provide important new information on why teenage mothers are so susceptible to having small babies. Longer term, the knowledge gained could lead to the development of new nutritional therapies for pregnant teenagers to help their babies grow healthily in the womb, and prevent some cases of premature birth.