The impact of having more than one long-term health condition on pregnant mothers and their babies is to be investigated by researchers at the University of Aberdeen.
UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have awarded the Aberdeen team more than £185,000 to investigate the long-term health outcomes for mothers and their babies with a view to improving maternity and post-natal care.
Living with two or more health conditions is becoming increasingly common in pregnant women with one in five pregnant women having two or more active long-term physical or mental health conditions such as diabetes or depression.
Managing these health needs can often mean women are taking several medications and the impact of this is unknown. This is the first large study to assess these issues.
Using routinely collected datasets from across the UK, this study will investigate how pregnancy and long-term health outcomes vary according to combinations of medications taken during pregnancy, specific combinations of health conditions and also by specific pregnancy complications and their impact on health in later life.
Due to start early September, the large collaboration led by the University of Birmingham, will see key sub-projects co-led by researchers at the University of Aberdeen, seven further universities, and NHS Trusts across the UK. The research is being funded via the £20m Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) Tackling Multimorbidity at Scale programme. The programme is delivered by UKRI’s Medical Research Council, with the Economic and Social Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, also part of UKRI. It is jointly funded by the government’s Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute of Health Research.
Dr Mairead Black Senior Lecturer in Obstetrics at the University of Aberdeen and Consultant Obstetrician at NHS Grampian who is co-leading the Aberdeen side of the project alongside Professor Louise Locock, explains: “We know that pregnant people with more than one long-term health condition are disproportionately affected by severe illness and even death during or shortly after pregnancy.
“We also know that maternity care systems can be difficult to navigate for these people.
“Without deeper understanding of the problem, women with several long-term health conditions may not have the best and safest experience of care before, during and after pregnancy because services have not been designed with their health needs in mind.
“The UK national body that reports on maternal deaths (MBRRACE) has been calling for research of this nature for many years so with this large-scale collaboration we look forward to addressing these challenges that are increasingly affecting new and expectant mothers.”
Prior to this study research into the impact of long-term health conditions in pregnancy has focused on those people with single health conditions. This is the first large study to assess these issues in those affected by more than one long-term health condition.
Professor Krish Nirantharakumar, of the University of Birmingham and Principal Investigator of the study said: “Having two or more health conditions is becoming more common in pregnant women as women are increasingly older when they start having a family and as obesity and mental health conditions are on the rise in general.
“However, we don't really understand what the consequences are of multiple health conditions or medications for mothers and babies.
“This can make pregnancy, healthcare and managing medications more complicated. Without deeper understanding of the problem, women with several long-term health conditions may not have the best and safest experience of care before, during and after pregnancy because services have not been designed with their health needs in mind.”
Dr Black continues: “Our novel multidisciplinary approach will allow future care to be tailored to women's needs, from the early pregnancy stage through the maternity journey to their long-term healthcare.
“This long-awaited project will also identify important time points to target with future care improvements to prevent pregnancy complications and long-term health conditions in women after pregnancy. We will produce recommendations on how to plan and design services that meet the needs of women and their families before, during and after pregnancy.”