Body & Fitness

Baby on board

They say you are what you eat. And now it seems you are also what your mum ate when she was carrying you. Doctors have known for several decades that if women take substances such as alcohol and tobacco during pregnancy, it can harm their unborn babies. And now medical science is also learning about how a mother’s diet can affect her developing child. But it’s not just what you put in your mouth that matters.

If you’re suffering from a lot of stress, that may have an impact on your baby too. Here’s some of the latest advice from researchers investigating these subjects.

Don’t … Gorge on junk food oums-to-be who pig out on junk food could be putting their unborn children at risk of ill health later in life. A British study suggests children born to women who eat large amounts of sugary fatty foods while pregnant may be more likely to be obese and suffer from illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

These findings are based on trials involving rats, who have similar biological systems to humans. Half the pregnant rats in the study were given normal rat food while the others were also given access to junk food like chocolate chip muffins, doughnuts and marshmallows.

Follow-up tests on the babies born to the rats who ate junk food found the babies suffered a host of problems that continued into adulthood, including high levels of cholesterol and other fats linked to heart disease. They also had elevated blood sugar and insulin levels, which increases the risk of diabetes.

Even baby rats who were never fed junk food, once they were born still tended to be overweight if their mums had eaten it. Female babies were the worst-affected group of rats. An earlier study by the same university researchers found the offspring of rats exposed to junk food in the womb or through their mother’s milk were more likely to have a taste for it themselves. one of the researchers says while eating some junk food during pregnancy shouldn’t do any harm, constantly gorging on it was not good for the baby.

Don’t … diet okay, so we now know we shouldn’t overdo the junk food while we’re pregnant. But we shouldn’t go to the other extreme either by dieting to try to lose weight. If you cut down on your kilojoules in an attempt to avoid piling on the pounds, you could in fact be increasing your baby’s chance of being obese.

It’s thought that babies who don’t get enough food in the womb end up with altered fat cells and are more likely to have weight problems when they grow up. The cells remember being short of food and will try to compensate for that throughout the person’s life.

Researcher Dr Helen Budge, of the University of Nottingham in the UK, says whether babies become obese can be influenced by the eating habits of their mums, as well as the nutrition they receive in the first months of their life. If expectant women eat a lot less than they should, the chemistry of their baby’s fat cells can be disrupted and that can have life-long consequences. Because overeating unhealthy foods during pregnancy can also increase the risk of your child being obese, the key to giving your baby the best chance of avoiding weight problems is to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Do … learn how to manage stress Pregnancy can be a stressful time and it’s only natural to have a few concerns. While a little bit of stress isn’t likely to be harmful to you or your baby, being highly anxious could be the cause of future problems, according to some medical research. Several studies suggest that babies born to stressed mums are more likely to suffer from stress themselves and they may also have a greater risk of having ADHD or other learning difficulties. They could also develop high blood pressure later in life.

Meanwhile, another trial has found that babies born to highly anxious mums may also have a greater risk of developing asthma. Scientists came to this conclusion after monitoring nearly 6000 families for eight years. The theory is that the developing immune systems of babies could be affected by high concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, which can be passed on from their mother. If you are already anxious or stressed, this information isn’t going to do much for your stress levels. However, it’s important to know that there are many successful methods of coping with stress, which could help your child as well as yourself. These include exercising, having regular massages and practising relaxation techniques such as meditation.

Do … listen to soothing music Listening to soothing or classical music has been shown to help women to lower their stress levels during pregnancy. Scientists in Taiwan divided 236 pregnant women into two groups and tested their stress and anxiety levels. They then instructed one group to listen to 30 minutes of music each day, including lullabies, classical music and nature sounds. All of the music had a tempo of between 60 and 80 beats a minute, the same as the human heart. When they were tested again just two weeks later, the women who had been listening to peaceful music appeared less depressed and anxious than they had been before. They were also less stressed than the other group.

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