Can your pregnancy diet affect the metabolism of your baby?
Metabolism. It's the little thing that allows some people to scoff a whole pie and still look skinnier afterwards, while others can sniff a donut and put on a few kgs. It's the easiest culprit to blame when we struggle to lose weight, and it's genetic... but does that mean it can't be programmed?
The boffins at the EarlyNutrition Program – an international program that brings together researchers from 36 institutions in 15 countries in Europe, the United States and Australia – have spent considerable time finding out whether this factor can be positively influenced by maternal diet during pregnancy, in the same way many other health factors and intelligence can.
Their research has found that besides genetic predisposition and an unhealthy lifestyle, metabolic programming by early nutrition is indeed a predisposing factor for obesity. This means that by watching what we eat while pregnant, breastfeeding and during your child’s early diet, we can positively influence their metabolism into adulthood.
What are they looking at?
Researchers are focusing their investigations on three main hypotheses when it comes to the causes of overweight and obesity:
- Does excessive in-utero exposure to glucose and other fuels permanently affect foetal development and thereby increase the risk of obesity in postnatal life?
- Does rapid weight gain during infancy increases the risks of becoming obese?
- Does a poor diet in early childhood predispose children to obesity in their adult life?
So far, studies have shown obese mothers and those who put on excessive weight gain during pregnancy have a much higher chance of their children becoming overweight themselves than those mothers who do not.
So what can you do with this information?
Health professionals have pretty much been telling us this for decades, but this research shows how far-reaching the effects are, and adds weight to the necessity of following the advice – and soon! Basically, follow a sensible diet with a variety of wholegrains, dairy, fruit and vegetables and lean meat, and teach your children to do the same. Here’s some more tips to help positively influence your child’s metabolism for the years to come:
- Consume a healthy diet, including a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, moderate amounts of low-fat dairy foods and lean meat, chicken and fish (make sure it is low in mercury), dried beans and lentils, nuts and seeds.
- Keep foods high in fat, sugar and salt to a minimum.
- Take folate supplements for the first three months of pregnancy.
- Don’t consume alcohol (also note alcohol will pass into breast milk.)
- Keep iron levels up with iron rich foods like red meat and iron enriched cereals, or your doctor may recommend iron supplements if your levels are low. Foods that are good sources of Vitamin C (like oranges) will help absorb the iron.
- Iodine is an important mineral needed for the production of thyroid hormone, which is important for growth and development. Foods rich in iodine include eggs, meat and dairy.
Breastfeeding and beyond:
- Keep up the healthy diet and plenty of water to keep a strong milk supply – exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first four-to-six months. Seek advice if you are having trouble, including if you wish to move to formula feeding.
- Introduce solid foods at around six months – rice cereal, then pureed vegetables and fruits are ideal.
- Include iron-containing foods in first foods to prevent iron deficiency. These include iron-fortified cereals, pureed meat and poultry dishes and some pureed vegetables. These can be introduced in any order, along with other nutritious foods.
- Ensure that spoon foods are of acceptable texture (no hard foods) and taste.
- Do not add sugar to infant foods as this increases the risk of dental caries.
- Do not add salt to foods for infants.
- By 12 months of age, children should be eating a variety of foods from the different food groups, as described in the Ministry of Health's Eating for Healthy Babies and Toddlers.
This article was written by Melanie Hearse and adapted for Kidspot, New Zealand's favourite parenting resource in Early Life Nutrition.
Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breast milk. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health care professional for advice about feeding your baby. This post is part of the Early Life Nutrition story.