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Excess pre-pregnancy weight may raise baby’s cerebral palsy risk

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Some women who are overweight or obese before pregnancy may face a slight increased risk of having a baby with cerebral palsy, a new study suggests.

After reviewing data from two Nordic countries, researchers also found that the risk of cerebral palsy was elevated in infants whose mothers’ pre-pregnancy weight was in the upper-normal range.

But experts stressed that the overall risks of having a baby with cerebral palsy (CP) remain very small, even among women carrying excess weight.

The study was published online September 8 in the journal Pediatrics.

“Even though an increased risk for overweight women of 60 percent seems high, the risk of having a baby with CP is still very low,” said study author Ingeborg Forthun, a doctoral student at University of Bergen in Norway.

It is also important to note that this study only proved an association between mothers’ pre-pregnancy weight and CP, not a cause-and-effect relationship.

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders affecting movement, balance and posture. It affects about one in 323 infants in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage or abnormal brain development, affecting muscle control and sometimes creating vision and hearing problems, learning disabilities or seizures, the CDC says.

In the new research, Forthun and her team combed through data on nearly 189,000 children from national data in Norway and Denmark.

Women’s pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) was grouped into those who were underweight, lower-normal weight, upper-normal weight, overweight and obese. Body mass index is a rough estimate of a person’s body fat based on height and weight measurements.

A normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.9, according to the CDC. An overweight BMI is 25 to 29.9, and obese is a BMI of 30 or over. For someone who’s 5 feet, 9 inches tall a weight of 125 to 168 pounds is considered normal weight, 169 to 202 pounds is overweight, and 203 pounds and more is obese, the CDC says.

Within the two countries, 390 cases of cerebral palsy were documented. The study also found mothers in the upper-normal weight group had a 40 percent greater risk of having a baby with the disorder. Results were consistent when adjusted for occupation, age and smoking status.

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