A new study indicates that the health of a mother is the biggest indicator of foetal growth and the size of newborns.
The study, carried out by Oxford University and published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal on July 6, discredits prior research which suggested that race and ethnicity were the most important determinants of the size of newborn babies.
“There is a possibility of all of us being equal at birth,” said Professor Jose Villar, the lead author of the study from the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at the University of Oxford in a statement.
“Something can be done. It is not true that women in some parts of the world have small er children because they are predestined to do so. It’s simply not true,” said Villar.
The team of researchers analysed 60,000 pregnancies from eight different parts of the world – Kenya, India, China, Brazil, Italy, Oman, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Researchers used ultrasounds to monitor foetal development in the womb and measured the length and head circumference of babies when they were born.
The researchers also found out that a mother’s education, health and nutrition were key determinants for the development and size of newborn babies.
These new findings point to international disparities in maternal health. According to the World Health Organisation, women in developing countries are 23 times more likely to die from maternal-related complications than women in developed countries.
“We can create a similar start for all by making sure mothers are well educated and nourished, by treating infection and providing adequate antenatal care,” Villar said.
Maternal health in Rwanda
“When you keep the mother healthy, her chances of giving birth to a healthy baby are high,” said Nathan Mugume, the Head of the Communication Division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre in his response to the research findings.
Mugume explained that the Oxford findings in a way justifies Rwanda’s 1,000 Days Campaign, which aims at providing children with adequate nutrition from birth to the age of two.
He said health education, community health workers and health posts in various sectors have increased women’s access to maternal health care in Rwanda.
“Today a Rwandan mother knows that when she is pregnant she needs to visit a health facility four times, she knows she should eat a balanced diet, and knows that she needs to take a rest and the necessary immunisation,” Mugume said.