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Babies Born to Healthy Mothers are Similar in Size: Oxford Study

Jul 07, 2014 04:34 AM EDT

(Photo : sabianmaggy/ flickrcreative commons)

Babies born to healthy mothers worldwide are surprisingly similar in size, discovered researchers at the Oxford University.

The team analyzed birth outcomes of over 60,000 pregnancies from Brazil, China, India, Italy, Kenya, Oman, the UK and USA. They found that size of the baby in womb as well as after delivery was similar if their mothers were healthy and received proper medical care.

The study challenges the idea that babies born in certain countries or belonging to certain races are predestined to be born smaller than other babies. According to the researchers, the study shows that food and healthcare at the time of pregnancy can prevent birth complications in several countries.

"Currently we are not all equal at birth. But we can be," said the lead author Professor Jose Villar of the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Oxford. "We can create a similar start for all by making sure mothers are well educated and nourished, by treating infection and by providing adequate antenatal care."

"Don't tell us nothing can be done. Don't say that women in some parts of the world have small children because they are predestined to do so. It's simply not true," Villar said in a news release.

The study is published in the journal The Lancet, Diabetes & Endocrinology and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The research is part of INTERGROWTH-21st study, which is led by the scientists at the Oxford.

For the study, researchers carried out ultrasound scans during pregnancy to measure babies' bone growth in the womb. The ultrasound machines were provided by Phillips Healthcare. Researchers also measured length and head circumference of babies after birth.

Small babies are at an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and other health problems. There are no standardized guidelines that determine whether a fetus or a baby is small or not.

"This is very confusing for doctors and mothers and makes no biological sense. How can a fetus or a newborn be judged small in one clinic or hospital and treated accordingly, only for the mother to go to another city or country, and be told that her baby is growing normally," said Professor Stephen Kennedy, University of Oxford, one of the senior authors of the paper.

Researchers conducting the INTERGROWTH-21st study want to construct international standards that help doctors all over the world assess whether or not a baby has normal birth size.

Five years ago, the World Health organization had conducted a similar study using the same methodology. In that study, the mean length of the newborns at birth was 49.5 ±1.9 cm. Five years later, the latest INTERGROWTH-21st study has also found that babies born to healthy mothers measure 49.4 ± 1.9 cm.

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