Women who conceive in May are more likely to give birth to underweight, premature babies who carry a higher risk of health problems in later life, a study of nearly 1.5 million children has found.
Scientists said that the effect was independent of class, race, or factors such as smoking. It is most likely due to the risk of women who become pregnant in mid-spring being affected by seasonal flu in the winter months.
The researchers believe that women who conceive in May are at higher risk than others of being infected with flu in January and February, when outbreaks usually peak – flu infections are known to increase the risk of premature birth.
The study was based on analysing the health data of nearly 650,000 groups of siblings in New York whose mothers gave birth to two or more children. By following children of the same mother, the scientists were able to eliminate other possible influences on premature births, such as social class or race, said Professor Janet Currie, of Princeton University.
“We found a sharp spike for premature births among babies conceived in May and we think the reason is due to the seasonal exposure of the pregnant mothers to flu,” Professor Currie said.
“The funny take-home message from the study is that people should avoid getting pregnant in May but the more practical message is that pregnant women should consider getting a flu shot or avoid getting flu if at all possible,” she said.