I recently read a column in Vogue magazine and it was aptly called Destiny’s Child. No, it wasn’t about the musical group, it was about pregnancy and how a mother’s lifestyle definitively impacts her child’s health destiny. Having just seen Jessica Simpson pack on some major pounds during her pregnancy – and tweeting about all the junk food and southern food she was craving and eating – I guess I’ve been mulling weight gain during pregnancy, the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
To start, I firmly believe that maternal eating has a huge impact on an infant’s health. I back that up with some information from studies that helped to determine the need for adequate folic acid in a mother’s diet during pregnancy to prevent neural tube disease; studies that suggest that children born to mother’s who have had bariatric surgery as an obesity treatment, are less likely to be obese, compared to siblings born to the same mother before the bariatric surgery was performed. Past research and extrapolations from that research concluded that the growing fetus would “draw proper nutrition from mom, in utero” regardless of her dietary choices. Recent discussions and some rat studies appear to suggest quite the opposite.
In one recent study, pregnant and lactating rats were fed either human junk food or regular rat food in unlimited quantities. When these rats gave birth, pups born to the junk-eating rats ate far more unhealthy fare and were 95% more likely to overeat, than the pups born to the rats fed regular animal fare. So the theory that the growing baby acts like a parasite and simply draws its nutritional needs from mom, would seem to be incorrect. We also know from the last several decades of research, that moms who took thalidomide or DES, had children with birth defects from direct thalidomide exposure, and specifically girls with uterine and fertility issues due to exposure to DES.
Let’s also stop and use common sense for a moment. It has to occur to most women, that when a baby is growing in utero and feeding off the by-products of mom's diet, that intuitively eating mostly healthy food would be an easy conclusion. Being more mindful about the amount of total weight you're planning to gain, would also make sense, since we know that excess weight gain can put mom at risk for gestational diabetes, hypertension or other complications. Larger babies born to overweight mothers is also problematic, since current research seems to suggest that many of these kids will struggle with pre-determined weight issues themselves as adults. It also doesn’t seem too far fetched for me to imagine that a predisposition to “liking the taste of junk food and fast food” could be developed in utero or afterwards, if mom eats a diet filled with unhealthy foods while nursing. Then add in the fact that a young child begins to take note of the pattern of eating in the home, once they hit around one year of age, and the obesity cycle has most assuredly been guaranteed for some if not many of these children. Experts know intervention can help the child or teen thwart these predispositions, but let’s face it – it’s really hard to lose weight, lose the cravings and maintain the weight loss, once the weight and the eating patterns have become entrenched.
So here’s a shout out to moms. I know for decades the mantra has been, “I am going to grow large during pregancy, so I might as well eat what I like while I am at my least attractive.” I’m asking you to think about the impact on your child and you. Consider eating mostly healthy food, watching the cravings, and positioning treats on your diet less frequently. I’m also suggesting that you really take a weight gain goal seriously, even if your OB/GYN doesn’t make a big deal about it – they should. And if you are obese or concerned with weight gain, seek out a dietician or nutritionist who can help you to figure out the best way to approach food needs and goals during pregnancy.
Published On: June 06, 2012