It makes sense your food choices while pregnant and breastfeeding influence your baby’s health. But you might not realise lifestyle choices, such as exercise, stress and sleep during pregnancy can affect your child’s lifelong wellbeing.
Even your diet and lifestyle in the period leading up to conception can have long-term positive health effects, not only for your children but even your grandchildren too.
Read on to discover more.
A recent study discovered mothers who ate a poor diet during pregnancy – specifically a diet high in fat – were far more likely to give birth to babies who developed metabolic health problems in later life. These are where the body struggles to control essential processes such as maintaining a steady balanced blood sugar. Metabolic health issues include Type 2 diabetes, insulin sensitivity and problems with energy production by mitochondria in the cells.
Even if the offspring of mothers eating the poor diet ate healthily themselves, they were still more likely to develop these health issues.
Meanwhile, obese mothers are more likely to give birth to infants with unhealthy immune systems in later life, and whose bodies can’t control inflammation.
However, researchers found exercising during pregnancy seems to reduce the damage done by both a poor diet and obesity. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise daily throughout pregnancy has also been found to build measurably healthier arteries in babies, changes still detectable when they reached adulthood.
When scientists looked historically at a group of people born after a period of famine in the Second World War, they discovered these people experienced a much higher rate of heart disease, metabolic diseases, obesity, mental health disorders and even some cancers compared to those in the general population. Food availability early on in pregnancy seems to be particularly crucial, highlighting the need for good nutrition from the time of conception, and preferably before.
Stress and anxiety during pregnancy can affect your baby’s health, too, with children born to stressed mothers being more likely to suffer from depression and disorders such as ADHD and to have problems sleeping. Speaking of sleep, not enough quality sleep during pregnancy is connected with lower birth weight.
The science of epigenetics looks at the impact of diet and lifestyle choices on the expression of genes. Science has discovered although your inherited genetic makeup is fixed, with your genes determining how tall you’re programmed to be and how you look to the outside world, how your genes are expressed – in other words, the instructions they give out to your cells – is affected by diet and lifestyle. Think of these changes as little switches turning on and off certain cellular functions, or highlighters drawing attention to specific parts of your body’s instruction manual. This is exciting because it means you’re more in control of your genetic predispositions than was originally believed.
Not only this, but, it’s believed these changes can be passed on to at least one generation, and maybe more. Epigenetic markers seem to be able to make their way into egg and sperm cells and influence embryonic development. In other words, some of the highlighting remained visible when your genes were copied from your parents.
One example of the epigenetic changes from diet and lifestyle persisting down the generations is the finding that grandmothers who lived through food shortages while pregnant had granddaughters who were more likely to be born underweight, and who tended to be more susceptible to numerous health problems in later life.
However, because we know epigenetic markers can be influenced by diet and lifestyle, these tendencies passed on down the generations can be reduced by healthy dietary and lifestyle choices.
One study in animals found when parents exercised before conceiving, their offspring had a lower risk of developing diabetes and obesity, even if the parents themselves had these conditions.
The responsibility doesn’t lie solely with Mum, either. A father’s diet can influence his children’s health. In studies, men who ate a high-fat diet or were obese were more likely to have children who suffered from poor health.
Even childhood health can affect your descendants – boys who overate during adolescence were found to have grandchildren with a higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
If you’re thinking of starting a family, it’s never too soon to start looking after your health for the sake of your children.
I will provide you with personalised dietary, supplement and lifestyle recommendations to ensure you’re giving the best health to your child and even to your grandchildren. Contact Embracing Nutrition today so you can pass on the gift of lifelong health and make the most of this unique opportunity to influence your child’s wellbeing.
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