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Monday, December 22, 2014

Bigger Babies, Smarter Babies? Part 1

Posted by William on October 4, 2012

Pregnancy is a time of unparalleled growth, when the curves of a woman’s figure become exaggerated, and her womb expands several times its normal size to make room for the life taking shape inside. While some women barely tip the scales over the course of nine months, others lug around dozens of extra pounds, and some nearly double their pre-pregnancy weight. The more pounds an expectant mom packs on, the bigger her baby may be, and often the longer the labor and higher the risk for an emergency C-section.

Labor in and of itself is hard enough. Laboring with a large baby on board is even harder. Though not much can be done to ease the fear of birthing a heavy baby, moms expecting the big one can breathe easier knowing that some researchers say larger babies tend to be smarter babies, and seem to excel academically throughout life.

Why Bigger May Mean Brainy
Researchers at University College London found that babies born at higher birth weights had higher cognitive function and performed better academically than those born at lower birth weights. Simply put, the study’s main findings suggest that larger babies tend to have larger head circumference, which leads to larger brain size and higher intellectual ability.

“The inference is that a baby’s head circumference gives us a rough and ready measure of their brain development,” says Dr. Marcus Richards, veteran psychologist and the study’s lead researcher.

The study, funded by the Medical Research Council (the British equivalent to America’s National Institutes of Health), uncovered a small but significant link between birth weight and increased cognitive function in the 3900 males and females who were evaluated at ages 8, 11, 15, 26, and 43.

Investigators analyzed the study participants, all born in 1946, using a series of academic achievement tests, including evaluations of verbal and nonverbal skills. The objective of the study was to examine the connection between birth weight and intellectual ability in the normal population.

Birth weight was significantly and positively associated with cognitive ability at age 8 between the lowest and highest birth weight categories — after sex, father’s social class, mother’s education, and birth order were controlled for.

Higher Birth Weight, Higher Education
Richards also revealed a positive association between birth weight and education, with those of higher birth weight more likely to have achieved higher scholastic qualifications.Specifically, 45 percent of working-class males weighing 8.8 pounds or more at birth went on to complete high school and pursue advanced degrees, while only 31 percent of males born at 5.5 pounds or less and with similar social backgrounds continued past high school.

This does not mean, however, that babies born at lower birth weights (fewer than 5.5 pounds) are at an intellectual disadvantage.

“Parents of lighter babies shouldn’t panic,” says Richards. “Birth weight is just one factor out of many that contributes to one’s intellectual abilities. The last thing I would want to do is worry anyone who gives birth to a less than big baby. Still, the fact remains that we detected a trend among larger weight babies.”

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