In some cases, it’s not overfeeding or even genetics that causes obesity in young children. Sometimes other complications can happen. One study reveals that babies who are born to mothers who suffer from a rare metabolic complication during pregnancy are just programmed to be overweight.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that mothers who suffered through intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) tended to have overweight children, even though there were no other factors that should cause them to be overweight. By the age of sixteen, boys born from cholestatic pregnancies had much higher body mass indexes. They also had increased levels of the hormone insulin after a period of fasting, which is a symptom of type 2 diabetes. However, the effects in girls were less noticeable. Waist measurements from girls of the same age born to mothers with intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy were increased by up to 9cm and hip measurements were increased up to 5cm compared with girls born from normal pregnancies.

Dr. Georgia Papacleovoulou, the first author of the study from Imperial College London, noted during the study that "this is the first evidence that cholestasis during pregnancy can have long-term effects on the health of the baby as it grows into adulthood." ICP, which is also called obstetric cholestasis, is an uncommon complication of pregnancy and it is characterized by the build-up of bile acids in the bloodstream and in certain populations, it can affect 1 in every 50 women.

The study also revealed that mothers with cholestasis had an increase in fats and cholesterol being transferred to the placentas as well, and this was consistent with a disruption in the metabolism of fats. The researchers hypothesized that the shift in the nutrients supplied by the mother was likely to affect the energy balance in the unborn baby and was something that could continue after the baby is born, resulting in “an altered metabolism in adult life that could give rise to diseases such as obesity and diabetes.”

Though the metabolic complication ICP does play an important part in deciding whether or not children are more likely to be obese later in life, the mother’s health is also a factor as well. Maintaining a healthy diet, especially during pregnancy, is crucial for your health and the health of your child after birth and for the rest of both your lives. If you need help outlining a proper pregnancy diet, talk to your doctor or dietician today about your options.


  • Georgia Papacleovoulou, et al. Maternal cholestasis during pregnancy programs metabolic disease in offspring. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2013; DOI: 10.1172/JCI68927
  • Wellcome Trust (2013, June 24). Rare pregnancy condition programs babies to become overweight in later life. ScienceDaily.