One of the most important roles of a mum is to put a plaster on a grazed knee, hold their hand while they are being immunised and ensure that they eat their greens before leaving the table, but research now clearly shows that mums can have a significant impact on their child's future health even before they are born.
Have you heard of the term 'early life nutrition'? Early life nutrition is the term commonly used by researchers to describe the nutrition that a baby gets throughout pregnancy, breast or formula feeding through until their second birthday.
Researchers are finding that the nutrition a baby receives throughout these first 1000 days of life significantly impacts their epigenetics which can influence their likelihood of a raft of future medical conditions.
Let's review some of the findings:
The health of a woman in the lead up to pregnancy can have a significant impact on pregnancy outcomes and a lifelong impact on her child's health.
- Optimise your weight -- women who are clinically overweight before falling pregnant are more likely to develop Gestational Diabetes, which in turn increases their baby's future risk of developing diabetes.
- Ensure that you are getting the right amount of folate -- don't wait until you're pregnant to start taking folate supplements. If you're planning a baby, start them before you conceive to decrease the risk of your baby developing neural tube defects.
Taking a pregnancy multi is not enough to optimise your baby's epigenetics.
- Eat a variety of nutritious foods. One interesting study which compared the food preferences of 10-year-old children with their dad's diet, mum's diet and mother's diet during pregnancy, found that their diet was most similar to their mother's pregnancy diet. If you want your baby to eat Brussels Sprouts when they're older, you need to eat them during pregnancy.
- Find out how much weight would be optimal for you to gain. Research shows that mothers are twice as likely to gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy if they know how much weight to aim for.
- Eat a diet rich in prebiotics. Prebiotics are foods which encourage the growth of a healthy gut microbiome. Examples include fruits, vegetables and wholegrains. Research suggests that a diet rich in prebiotics may help to reduce your baby's risk of food allergies and intolerances.
As your baby's digestive system develops, it is important to provide them with the best possible sources of nutrition.
- Breastfeed for as long as possible. Not all mums are able to breastfeed, but breastfeeding for as long as possible, even if it's only partially breastfeeding, is protective against a significant number of immune-related diseases such as asthma, diarrhoea and respiratory infections.
- Avoid taste-testing too early. An Australian study found that 21 percent of first-time mothers had given their baby non-milk foods before 17 weeks of age. This can be detrimental to their digestive health as their digestive system isn't fully mature, and some research suggests it may also increase the risk of childhood obesity.
Starting foods can be an interesting and fun experience but it's important to focus on nutritional needs and eating behaviours instead of just minimising a messy floor.
- Introduce potential allergens early. Some mums avoid potential allergens such as wheat, eggs and nut products in an effort to reduce the risk of food allergies, however, the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy recommends introducing potential allergens as early as possible to help build up your child's immune system.
- Don't force your child to finish everything on their plate. The first two years of life is when a child's energy regulation is programmed. Allow toddlers to determine how much food they will eat at each meal. This will help enable them to better regulate their appetite as they grow and can assist in managing their weight.
If you have questions about how to optimise your little one's nutrition before, during or after your pregnancy, speak to an Accredited Practising Dietitian.