Maternal research focuses on obstetric cholestasis (OC), a serious problem in pregnancy which affects about one in 150 pregnancies or about 4,500 women a year in the UK. These women develop severe itching and sometimes jaundice. More importantly, the condition is associated with preterm birth and is also believed to be an important cause of stillbirth.
Obstetric cholestasis is a pregnancy-specific liver disease that affects 0.5%-2% of pregnant women and is characterized by increased bile acid levels in the mother’s blood. Professor Catherine Williamson has conducted a study to find out what effects having this condition has on mother and baby. She found that women with severe OC had an increased risk of pre-term delivery, neonatal admission and still birth when compared to women without the condition. These findings support the case for close antenatal monitoring of pregnancies affected by severe OC.
In a further study of mothers with OC, research has shown that the offspring, when measured at 16 yrs, had higher than normal lipid levels in their blood. Males had increased BMI, and females exhibited increased waist and hip girth compared with the offspring of uncomplicated pregnancies. This research shows that metabolic disease in the child is a consequence of having this condition during pregnancy.