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Injury in pregnant women ups cerebral palsy risk in offspring



The offspring of mothers who sustain unintentional injuries during pregnancy appear to have a modest 33% increased risk of developing cerebral palsy (CP) – higher when injuries are more severe, multiple, or lead to delivery soon afterward, a Canadian birth cohort study found.

Such children may benefit from long-term monitoring for neurodevelpmental issues, wrote a group led by Asma Ahmed, MD, PhD, MPH, a pediatric epidemiologist at the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute in Toronto in JAMA Pediatrics.

“We need to provide better support for babies whose mothers have been injured in pregnancy, especially after severe injuries,” Dr. Ahmed said in a press release. “As well, these findings suggest the need for early monitoring of babies’ development, regular check-ups, and longer-term neurodevelopmental assessments.” Future studies should directly measure injury severity and its possible link to CP.

Current guidelines, however, focus on monitoring fetal condition immediately after injury with little attention to its long-term effects.

In their findings from the population-based linkage study of 2,110,177 children born in Ontario’s public health system during 2002-2017 and followed to 2018 with a median follow-up of 8 years:

  • A total of 81,281 fetuses were exposed in utero to unintentional maternal injury.
  • Overall, 0.3% children were diagnosed with CP, and the mean CP incidence rates were 4.36 per 10,000 child-years for the exposed versus 2.93 for the unexposed.
  • In those exposed, the hazard ratio was 1.33 (95% confidence interval, 1.18-1.50) after adjusting for maternal sociodemographic and clinical characteristics.
  • Injuries resulting in hospitalization or delivery within 1 week were linked to higher adjusted hazard ratios of 2.18 (95% CI, 1.29-3.68) and 3.40 (95% CI, 1.93-6.00), respectively.
  • Injuries most frequently resulted from transportation mishaps, falls, and being struck by a person or object. They were most commonly associated with age younger than 20 years, substance use disorder, residence in rural and under-resourced areas, and lower socioeconomic status.

The authors noted that complications after maternal injuries – which affect 6%-8% of pregnant women – include uterine rupture, preterm delivery, and placental abruption and are linked to fetal complications such as asphyxia. The association with an offspring’s neurodevelopment has been rarely investigated. One U.K. population study, however, suggested a link between vehicular crashes and higher CP risk in preterm infants.

A related editorial on the study noted that while CP affects about two to four children per 1,000 live births each year in high-income countries, the etiological causes of most cases remain unknown. “This large population-based cohort study ... should inspire more research into preventing and mitigating factors for maternal injuries and offspring CP development,” wrote Zeyan Liew, PhD, MPH, and Haoran Zhuo, MPH, of Yale University School of Public Health in New Haven, Conn.

This study was supported by Santé-Québec and ICES, a research institute funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

Dr. Ahmed and coauthor Seungmi Yang, PhD, reported research funding from Santé-Québec during the conduct of the study.

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