A mother’s weight and metabolic conditions during pregnancy are not just potentially harmful to herself – new research suggests these factors can play a key role in her child’s development as well.

A major study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis MIND Institute revealed that mothers who are diabetic or obese while pregnant had a significantly increased risk of having a child with autism or developmental delays compared to pregnant women of normal weight without diabetes.

While previous studies have been conducted on a possible link between diabetes and a risk of autism, the authors said this is the first study to expand on maternal metabolic conditions to include both obesity and hypertension.  According to the researchers, the results bring the scientific community one step further in understanding how a child’s environment plays a role in the progression of developmental disabilities.

“This study was investigating environmental conditions that could affect the developing child during the gestational period,” said Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor of public health sciences at UC Davis and senior author of the study.  “Usually when you think of environment you think of pollution or chemicals, but environment is very broad.  Anything that is not genetic, we consider environmental – so this can include infections, diet, and nutrition.  It also includes the health of the mother, because while the fetus is developing, that’s the environment that it’s in.”