In 2001, Kevin M. Godfrey and David J.P. Barker published the article “Fetal Programming and Adult Health” in Public Health Nutrition, where they identified the significance of maternal nutrition during pregnancy to healthy offspring development. The authors describe the effects of maternal nutrition on fetal programming of cardiovascular disease. Fetal programming is when a specific event during pregnancy has effects on the fetus long after birth. The authors argue that fetuses may adapt to varying shifts in their environment in utero, such as slowed fetal growth in response to malnutrition. While those adaptations can be helpful in utero, the authors assert they may persist into adolescence and adulthood, causing conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Godfrey and Barker assert that fetal adaptations to maternal malnutrition may be implicated in the development of cardiovascular disease in adulthood, and called for future research investigating additional fetal programming variables.
Nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a technique to create a three-dimensional image of a fetus. Doctors often use MRIs to image a fetuses after an ultrasound has detected an, or has been inconclusive about an, abnormality. In 1983 researchers in Scotland first used MRI to visualize a fetus. MRIs showed a greater level of fetal detail than ultrasound images, and researchers recognized the relevance of this technique as a means to gather information about fetal development and growth. Researchers later used the technology to take measurements of the uterus, placenta, amniotic fluid, and fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy. MRI provided doctors with a non-invasive method to diagnose and treat fetal abnormalities and maternal conditions such as pre-eclampsia.