A healthy pregnancy diet: Top 5 effects on the child
Pregnancy is definitely one of the most joyous phases in a woman’s life. At the end of three trimesters, every mother-to-be yearns for a healthy and happy baby. Eating healthy during these nine months is key to that goal. Avoiding indulging in unhealthy foods and eating healthy is one of the most important things during this phase because what you eat directly affects the health of your baby, not only while he or she is inside you but even after birth.
Through researches and studies over the years we now know that the diet a mother eats has a profound effect on all the body system of the unborn child. It not only affects the height or the birth weight of the child but also affects the expression of genes, hormone system, the developing nervous system and risk of diseases later on in life when the child becomes an adult.
Since maternal nutrition is so important here are the top 5 effects of a healthy nutritious diet on your young one.
- Protection from complications of birth
Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy), preterm delivery and growth retardation are some of the most important complications of pregnancy which can impact the birth outcome. Poor nutrition intake by the mother during pregnancy can increase the risk of infant death, which usually occurs because of low birth weight, birth defects, and maternal complications.
An abundant intake of vegetables, fruits, plant-based foods, whole grains, nuts, pulses, olive oil and a lower intake of high fat milk, meats has shown to protect again preterm birth. Similarly a diet low on saturated fats and processed foods) meat products, white bread, French fries, salty snacks, and sugar-sweetened drinks) can confer protection against development of preeclampsia. A healthy diet with adequate calories and the right amounts of macro and micronutrients such as calcium, folate, zinc, vitamin D and iron will help the child to grow well in the womb and to be born with an ideal birth weight.
- Reduction in risk against development of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity as an adult
During the time in the womb, the nutrients consumed by the mother has a role in altering the child’s genome. This is called fetal programming. Development of diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes later on in adult life have been shown to be the result of the interaction between a poor maternal diet and the genome of the unborn child.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy maternal body weight and consuming a diet that is rich in micronutrients such as vitamin C, folate, iodine and iron is ideal. Maternal diets high in sugar and fat have been shown to increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease later in life and hence have to be avoided.
- Reduction in asthma and allergy risk
The time that your child develops inside your womb is an important and critical period for the development of the immune system. Hence researchers believe that the kind of diet a mother follows while being pregnant can modulate development and progression of diseases like asthma, wheezing and other allergic diseases like dermatitis and rhinitis in the child.
Studies have shown that consumption of fish, apples, cooked green vegetables, raw vegetables, eggs during pregnancy can reduce risk of asthma and allergic diseases in the child. In fact, some other studies have also shown that consumption of common allergenic products like wheat and peanuts (only if the mother is not allergic to these) during pregnancy can reduce allergy risk in the child. Researchers attribute the beneficial effects of these foods to the presence of several antioxidants, vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids that are present in these foods which have been shown to have a protective effect against asthma and allergic disease.
- Reduction in risk of certain types of cancers
The intra-uterine nutritional environment has a huge impact on certain genes which control important cellular functions like cell division, proliferation and cell death; fundamental processes that are affected in cancer. Studies have shown that both undernourishment (deficient micro and macronutrient diets) and over nourishment (diets that are high in calories, fats and processed foods) can modulate risk of certain cancers in the child.
Maternal consumption of plenty of vegetables, fruits, protein and pulses before and during pregnancy has been shown to reduce risk of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), a common childhood cancer in the child. Mothers are advised to reduce the amount of fat consumed while pregnant as this increases risk of breast cancers in a female child. Another analysis of studies has shown that mothers who consume a folate rich diet reduce their child’s risk of developing Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors (CBSCT). Similarly, use of prenatal vitamins during pregnancy seems to protect children against neuroblastoma (a childhood nervous system cancer) and leukaemia.
- Having a super smart kid
Heredity and genes have a lot to do with how smart your child will eventually turn out to be. However, the nutrition that you provide your child while the nervous system is developing is important too.
As your child’s nerve cells are developing while in the womb, they are particularly finicky about the type of nutrients they get as these nutrients are the building blocks of your child’s brain. Remember that approximately 70% of the brain development happens in the womb. Researchers have shown that brain structure and function can be directly affected by the maternal diet. Since cognitive functions of the brain like attention, memory, thinking, learning, and perception are related to the structural aspect of the brain, so maternal nutrition during this time is very crucial.
A diet rich in protein, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals and particularly a nutrient called choline (present in eggs) is the way to go. Some nutrient super stars during this time are omega-3 fats, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, multivitamins, zinc, selenium, iodine, choline, iron, folate and essential amino acids including taurine. You can get these from fresh seasonal vegetables, green leafy vegetables, nuts, pulses, whole grains, eggs, lean meat and fish.