Pregnant mothers who overeat or under eat may be setting up their babies for a lifelong weight problem. Therefore, it is important to start eating healthily before getting pregnant to avoid programming their child to a lifetime of obesity.

How does over eating or under eating cause obesity in the unborn child?

The foetus in the womb receives all their nutrients from their mother. If the unborn child is not getting enough nutrients, it compensates to ensure the chances of survival by becoming very efficient at storing fat. When the child is born into an environment with ample food supplies, the child will accumulate more fat than normal.

On the other hand, if the pregnant mother over eats, the foetus is exposed to high level of blood glucose and free fatty acids, which encourage fat storage. This creates long-lasting changes in the proportion of lean muscle and body fat in the unborn child.

Professor Neena Modi, a professor in neonatal medicine at Imperial College of London and research consultant neonatologist at Chelsea and Westminster hospital did a study and established the first direct link between the weight of pregnant mother and her baby.

The research team took MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan of 105 babies; 54 boys and 51 girls. They found 31 babies had more fat tissues around the abdomen than normal. The team established for every unit increase in BMI of the mothers is linked to an increase in 7 kg of weight in their babies.

What are the problems with obese babies?

Obese babies are more likely to develop health issues such as brittle bone, diabetes, asthma, allergies, heart disease and cancer later in life.

“Eating for two” in pregnant mothers no longer holds true. In fact, pregnant mothers should only take an extra 300 calories per day. So, it is important to eat better but not eat more.

Here are 5 ways pregnant mothers should do to maintain healthy weight:

1) Foods to avoid

Skip unpasteurized milk, soft cheese, uncooked meat and seafood. They are possible source of bacteria that can harm the foetus.

Limit sugary beverages, junk food and processed food. They are low in nutrients and high in empty calories. Processed foods contain additives, preservatives and trans fat, which are not beneficial to the baby development.

Avoid all alcohol because it can cause physical defects, learning difficulties and emotional problem in the child.

Nearly all fishes contain traces of mercury, which is harmful in high doses to the growing brain of the foetus. The US FDA (Food Drug Administration) recommends limiting fish to 12 oz a week. This is equivalent to 2 servings.

2) Vitamin and mineral supplementation

Nutritional supplements such as iron, calcium, folic acid and vitamin D are some of the important minerals required for the healthy development of the foetus.  Multi-vitamins, especially vitamin B complex, are necessary to provide antioxidants to fight free radicals in both the mother and the unborn child.

3) Healthy meals

Eating better mean eating nutrient rich foods such as:

  • Good fats – from olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds that are rich in Omega-3
  • Fruits and vegetables – provide antioxidants and fiber
  • Whole grains – provide sustain energy without surge in blood sugar
  • Good protein – legumes, nuts and seeds as well as lean meats are good source of protein

4) Eat frequent smaller meals

If nausea, food aversion, heartburn or indigestion make full size meal unpleasant, try eating 5-6 smaller meals throughout the day.

5) Exercise

Continue to be active and exercise. Walking and swimming are excellent ways to keep fit during pregnancy. This will also prepare your strength and stamina for childbirth. Endorphin,  “feel good” hormone release during exercise also calms the baby.

You will realize that eating healthily during pregnancy is no different from normal healthy diet. Therefore, if you have already built a habit of eating properly before pregnancy, you are likely to do the same when you are pregnant.

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