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Key Findings: Women’s Weight Before Pregnancy and Child Development

The mother’s obesity before the pregnancy may have long-term effects on a child’s development

Pediatrics has published a new study looking at the relationship between a woman’s weight before pregnancy and her child’s development. In recent decades, both obesity and developmental disabilities have increased. In this study, researchers found that children of severely obese mothers were more likely than children of mothers with normal weight to have poor developmental outcomes, including diagnoses of specific developmental disabilities and difficulties with emotions and relationships with other children. Additionally, children of severely obese mothers were more likely than children of normal weight mothers to receive education and healthcare services related to their developmental special needs. This study indicates that the mother’s obesity before the pregnancy may have long-term effects on a child’s development.

You can read the abstract of the article here. Read more below for a summary of findings from this article.

Main Findings:

  • Children born to mothers who were severely obese before pregnancy were much more likely to have poor developmental outcomes, compared with children born to mothers who were normal weight.
  • Compared to children of normal weight mothers, children of obese mothers were:
    • Almost 5 times more likely to have an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder diagnosis
    • About 3 times more likely to have an autism or developmental delay diagnosis
    • About 2 times more likely to
      • have emotional symptoms
      • have peer problems
      • receive speech or language therapy
      • receive any special needs services
  • These findings were not explained by other pregnancy factors or factors after the pregnancy, such as a woman’s weight gain during pregnancy, complications during pregnancy (such as diabetes), the child’s birth weight, the amount of time a child was breastfed, or whether the mother had depression after the pregnancy.
  • These findings support previous recommendations and guidance for women to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle before pregnancy.
  • It is not known how a mother’s obesity before pregnancy might affect her child’s subsequent development. Therefore, future research could look for factors that underlie the relationship between women’s obesity before pregnancy and subsequent developmental delays in children.

About This Study

This study analyzed data collected during the Infant Feeding Practices Study II, which included more individuals than most previous studies that have looked at the issue of women’s obesity during pregnancy in relation to their children’s development. Specifically, this study examined relationships between woman’s body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy and their children’s development, using multiple outcome measures: parent report of children’s difficulties; specific developmental disability diagnoses; and receipt of special needs services.

More Information


Jo H, Schieve LA, Sharma AJ, Hinkle SN, Li R, Lind JN. Maternal prepregnancy body mass index and child psychosocial development at 6 years of age. Pediatrics. 2015;135(5)