This is again documented in a study in rats by Emily Hayes and colleagues from McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, published in the latest issue of PLoS One.
In their experiments, they compared the fetal development and pregnancy outcomes in female Sprague Dawley rats raised either on a high fat diet (HF – 45% of calories from fat) or a control diet (CON – 16% of calories from fat).
Prior to pregnancy HF-fed dams had significant increases in body fat, serum leptin and triglycerides.
In addition, the HF-fed dams exhibited altered vascular development in the placenta, as well as increased hypoxia as well as a more than 3-fold increase in fetal death and decreased neonatal survival.
As the authors surmise, altered placental vasculature in animals raised on a high-fat diet may result in reduced oxygenation of the fetal tissues contributing to premature demise and poor neonatal survival.
Certainly in humans, increased maternal obesity and weight gain are associated with a significantly increased risk to both the mother and infant, an issue that I have previously discussed.
The fact that such problems can be reproduced in experimental animal models certainly points to important biological consequences of nutrition and weight gain before and during gestation that can have important consequences for the infants.
Hayes EK, Lechowicz A, Petrik JJ, Storozhuk Y, Paez-Parent S, Dai Q, Samjoo IA, Mansell M, Gruslin A, Holloway AC, & Raha S (2012). Adverse fetal and neonatal outcomes associated with a life-long high fat diet: role of altered development of the placental vasculature. PloS one, 7 (3) PMID: 22442686