The study, led by the University of Adelaide in South Australia, also found that babies with a birth weight under 2.5kg (5lb8oz) that go on to become overweight or obese women are at even greater risk of pregnancy complications.
The findings suggest that women who were born small may have been affected by unfavourable intrauterine conditions, and the physiological demands of pregnancy may act as a “second hit” leading to pregnancy complications.
In the study of 5336 women in Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Ireland found those who reported a birth weight under 2500g had a 1.7 times higher risk of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy compared with those who had a birth weight of 3000–3499g.
Women who reported a birth weight of 3500–3999g or a birth weight of 4,000g or higher had a 40 per cent reduced risk of preeclampsia compared with the control group.
Also, women who reported a low birth weight were at increased risk of developing gestational hypertension and gestational diabetes compared with women who had a normal birth weight.
The study is published in the research journal Obesity.
Lead author Dr Prabha Andraweera, of the University of Adelaide, said two previous studies involved much lower participant numbers and only focused single complications.
She said risks were especially high for women who had a low birth weight but subsequently became overweight or obese.
“Because we had a large number of participants we were able to look at all the pregnancy complications and also because we had participants from different countries it also added value,” Dr Andraweera said.
“We can look at interventions to modify diet and lifestyle factors to reduce the risk of obesity before pregnancy and perhaps this could reduce the risk for those women.
“There are animal studies that have shown such intervention during pregnancy such as modifying diet and increased exercise for those with a low birth weight can reduce the risk of complications but we haven’t looked at it in humans yet so the next project could be to look at those.”Jump to next article