‘Early baby growth’ linked to asthma

Asthma sufferer using inhaler
Image caption Researchers studied over 5,000 children

Babies who grow rapidly in the first three months of life may be more likely to develop asthma as children, say Dutch researchers.

They found "accelerated weight gain" was linked to a higher chance of symptoms such as wheezing.

The study of 5,125 children by the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam suggested no connection with earlier impaired growth in the womb.

Asthma UK said parents should keep following official baby-feeding advice.

The origins of asthma are still not fully understood, although many researchers believe there is some connection with the way the foetus develops and grows through pregnancy.

The study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine compared pregnancy and baby records measuring foetal and postnatal weight gain.

'Critical period'

The babies were then followed up at yearly intervals and their parents questioned about breathing symptoms, as the presence of these can be a reasonable indicator of whether or not a child will go on to develop full blown asthma.

They found that, compared with babies whose growth followed the normal pattern in the months after birth, babies who gained weight rapidly were 44% more likely to suffer wheezing, 22% more likely to have shortness of breath and 30% more likely to have persistent phlegm.

There was no apparent relationship between the fast-growing babies and being underweight in the womb.

Although routine foetal measurement can be imprecise, this suggested that the sudden weight gain was not necessarily the baby "catching up" from reduced growth in the womb.

Dr Liesbeth Dujits said that early infancy might be a "critical period" for asthma development.

She said: "We know that low birth weight is associated with an increased risk of asthma symptoms, but the effects of specific foetal and infant growth patterns had not been examined yet.

"Our results suggest that the relationship between infant weight gain and asthma symptoms is not due to the accelerated growth of foetal growth-restricted infants only.

"While the mechanisms underlying this are unclear, accelerated weight growth in early life might adversely affect lung growth."

Leanne Metcalf, from Asthma UK, said that while the study offered more insight into the possible development of asthma, it was too early for parents to change the way they cared for their children.

"This is an interesting preliminary study, but parents should follow existing advice from health professionals when it comes to feeding their babies in the first few months.

"We know that early life does appear to influence the risk of developing asthma later on, but there are a lot of other potential factors that have to be taken into consideration."

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