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Womb time drops when hungry mama conceives, Science study says

Female sheep that were undernourished around the time of conception carried their unborn lambs for a shorter time than their fully-nourished peers according to a new study that may help doctors understand human preterm pregnancies. This research appears in the 25 April issue of the journal, Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Preterm births are a significant health problem, their frequency is on the rise and the cause of 60% of these abbreviated human pregnancies remains unknown.

"If you could reduce preterm birth by some small percentage, you could improve the long-term health and lives of many people," said Frank Bloomfield, a neonatologist and study author from the University of Auckland in Auckland, New Zealand and the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada.

"Preliminary evidence suggests that severe maternal undernutrition or stress early in human pregnancy may result in preterm birth. However, there is little experimental evidence to support this," write the authors from New Zealand, Australia and Canada who present data showing that the preterm birth of lambs is related to their mothers' nutrition at the time of conception.

The authors decreased the food ration for a group of sheep 60 days before conception and maintained this reduced diet for the first 30 days of the pregnancy. The normal length of a sheep pregnancy only varies by a few days which means time-sensitive developmental deviations can be easily observed. Lambs from undernourished mothers were born significantly earlier than lambs from mothers on full-feed. Fetal hormone levels, critical to a final stage of maturation and necessary for birthing process, followed markedly different patterns based on the nutrition of the mother at conception.

"There could be down-the-road implications for what prospective moms should be eating if these findings are applicable to human pregnancy," said Bloomfield who explained that pret
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Contact: Lisa Onaga
lonaga@aaas.org
202-326-7088
American Association for the Advancement of Science
24-Apr-2003


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