Bariatric Surgery Helps Moms Give Birth to Healthier Babies

Understanding how changes affect DNA can result in healthy babies. Photo by: mahalie stackpole

Weight loss through bariatric surgery can improve the health of moms and their future babies, according to a recent study. Researchers found babies born to moms who lost a substantial amount of weight from bariatric surgery have less cardiovascular risk factors compared to siblings born before the surgery.

The study also made a number of additional discoveries, including the fact that a mother’s weight loss has a positive effect on the genes of the unborn baby, and the way in which weight changes can affect the DNA of our offspring.

Overall, the study found that patients who had the bilio-pancreatic bypass surgery gave birth to children that were less likely to be obese. Bilio-pancreatic bypass surgery reduces the size of the stomach, and reconnects the stomach to a lower position of the small intestine.

Weight-Loss Surgery and Pregnancy Health

Decoded Science asked Dr. Frédéric Guénard, one of the researchers in the study, whether the same result has been seen in other gastric bypass surgeries. He replied, ”Several studies evaluated pregnancy outcomes and neonatal complications after different bariatric surgeries. However, to our knowledge only two studies conducted by our collaborators evaluated obesity in children after maternal bariatric surgery (Kral et al. Pediatrics 2006; Smith et al., Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism 2009). These studies were restricted to biliopancreatic diversions.”

So what’s the science behind all of this? How does losing weight result in DNA changes to the offspring? Researchers know that genes can be turned on and off through a variety of processes. One way this occurs is through small molecules binding to a person’s DNA. Methyl molecules can turn genes on and off through a processes called DNA methylation.

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What is Gene Methylation?

Decoded Science asked Dr. Frédéric Guénard about this processes. He replied, “Gene methylation is a process involved in the fine-tuning of gene expression. It consists in small modifications added at specific sites of the DNA throughout the whole genome without modification of the DNA sequence itself. It is mainly acquired during the fetal development with subtle changes during life. The methylation process is influenced by environmental factors (such as adiposity, nutrient availability, smoking, physical activity, … ). Methylation process is thus a fine-tuning gene expression regulating process linking the genome and the environment.”

Healthy moms can equal healthy babies. Photo by: Bonnie U. Gruenberg

Bariatric Surgery Health Benefits for Children

Children born to mothers who had the bariatric surgery had lower blood pressure, had better insulin resistance, and improved cardiovascular profile.

Decoded Science asked Dr. Frédéric Guénard what he would recommend to women who were considering the procedure. He replied,
Many epidemiological studies have demonstrated that obesity has a deleterious impact on pregnancy and neonatal outcomes. Bariatric surgery is a surgical procedure mainly used to treat severe obesity. Depending on the type of bariatric surgery used, different maternal complications may occur, including nutritional deficiencies. Patient follow-up and preconception care for women who have had bariatric surgery are thus important. Collaborators and surgeons at the Quebec Heart and Lung institute pay specific attention on it. Studies conducted to date were made on small groups and were not conducted in order to make recommendations. However, according to the American Dietetic Association and the American Society for Nutrition guidelines, all overweight or obese women of reproductive age should receive counseling on the roles of diet and physical activity prior to pregnancy in order to improve adverse pregnancy outcomes for the mother and the child.”

Losing Weight Before Getting Pregnant

Health professionals agree that being at a healthy weight before getting pregnant results in fewer complications for the mother and baby. With the results of Dr. Frédéric Guénard‘s study, we asked him what his recommendation is to all obese or overweight women. He replied that, “Our study demonstrates that maternal bariatric surgery impacts on methylation levels of inflammatory genes in offspring. Knowing the involvement of inflammatory mechanisms in the development of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes, which are known obesity-related complications, we provide here potential explanations for the improved cardiometabolic risk profile seen in children born after maternal surgery through the regulation of inflammatory processes by differential methylation of inflammatory genes. However, the link between differential methylation, gene expression, obesity phenotypes and obesity complications still need to be explored. Thus, it is too early to change the recommendations. Patients and care givers must continue to refer to guidelines from the American Dietetic Association and the American Society for Nutrition as they are.”

Healthy Moms, Healthier Babies

Research shows how the health of the mother directly affects her unborn baby for the rest of his or her life. This should be motivation for mothers to become as healthy as possible before becoming pregnant. Weight loss surgery, such as the lap band, has risks, so discuss your options carefully with your doctor about what you can do to have a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.


Frédéric Guénard. Influence of Maternal Bariatric Surgery on Methylation Levels of Inflammatory Disease-Related Genes in Offspring. (2012). Presented on October 29, 2012 at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress.

*Originally Published on Decoded Science*

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  1. It’s amazing what medical scientists and their colleagues in other fields have been able to do.

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