Babies smaller if pregnancy unplanned

Starting well

Our research collaboration with Singapore has shown newborns are smaller in unplanned pregnancies, highlighting the need for better health advice and family planning for young women. 

Improving children’s health

Professor Keith Godfrey, director of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, has shown that babies have a shorter body length if the pregnancy was unplanned, working in collaboration with researchers on the Growing Up in Singapore Toward healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) study.

The results, published in the journal Prevention Science, indicate that women who are unaware that they are pregnant are less likely to take steps to take care of their own health and that of their baby, which may explain why their babies tend to be smaller when they are first born.

As shorter birth length has previously been found to correlate with poorer long term health, providing better support for women could help improve the health of the next generation.

Smaller babies

The researchers asked 861 pregnant women two questions; ‘Was this pregnancy planned?’ and ‘To what extent do you feel enthusiastic about being pregnant right now?’ in order to categorise the pregnancy as planned or unplanned, as well as determine if it was mistimed or unintended.

Women who did not plan their pregnancy were more likely to smoke or passive smoke and less likely to take folic acid supplements before and during their pregnancy. When they were born, their babies were an average of 0.46cm shorter in length.

The babies’ length at birth was used as a measure of their size, rather than birth weight, as it is a better predictor of adult height and weight.

Supporting women 

The researchers argue that these results show the need for better support for women of child-bearing age, in order to improve the long-term health of future children.

Improvements to pregnancy planning services could enable women to prepare by making health-related changes such as eating a healthy diet, doing regular exercise and stopping smoking, as well as starting to take supplements recommended for women trying for a baby.

Posted on Thursday 10 November 2016