The health of a mother and her child is greatly affected by when she delivers her baby. New research shows that the delivery date is determined by the baby’s own genes.
Premature birth causes a multitude of health problems leading to infant death. On the other hand, if a mother surpasses her due date, the risk of complications and still birth increases. However, until now there has been little speculation into what causes a woman to go into labour.
Another contributor to the study, Dr Rachel Freathy, from the University of Exeter, said: “We’d like to thank all the mothers and babies in the Exeter Family Study of Childhood Health and the Bristol-based ALSPAC study. Their data made important contributions to this work. The findings represent a significant step towards better understanding of the timing of birth, especially as they show that the genes of the baby play a role, and not just those of the mother.”
The research analysed the genetic information from 84,689 children from 20 different cohorts in eight countries. The investigation discovered that in a small area of chromosome 2, there is a clear statistical association between common genetic variants in the babies and the timing of delivery.
“The study was not based on any specific hypothesis. We looked at all the chromosomes and investigated more than 7.5 million genetic variants,” said Senior Scientist Bjarke Feenstra from SSI, who co-directed the study.
“We therefore proceeded to investigate the association in an additional 9,291 children from Norway, England and Finland. This time we looked specifically at this small area of chromosome 2 and were able to confirm the same association,” Bjarke Feenstra continued.
Bjarke Feenstra said: “The results cannot be used to predict time of delivery. The important message is that we have now established with great certainty that genetic variation at this particular place in the fetal genome has a biological effect on the duration of pregnancy, small as it may be. This new knowledge will be an important steppingstone in the efforts to better understand the biology behind how delivery is initiated.”