Eating Junk While Pregnant Makes Baby Love it too

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • A new study out of University of Adelaide seems to link a junk food diet during pregnancy, to offspring craving those very same foods too, and at an early age.  In fact, regular consumption of these “junk foods,” during pregnancy and while nursing your baby, seemed to program babies to have heightened cravings, even addictions to those foods, by the time they are weaned.


    One of the explanations for this phenomenon seems to be a desensitization to “brain reward” as the growing fetus and then nursing baby, feeds off the by-products of mom’s unhealthy diet during growth in utero, and then as a breastfeeding baby.  The study, published in The FASEB Journal, is the first study to examine the impact of a maternal diet containing high amounts of fat, sugar, sodium foods, on the baby’s dietary preferences at a very young age.  So babies who experience this type of nutrition need to eat more and more of these junk foods as they grow older, in order to experience that opioid high that they became familiar with in mom’s belly, and as they nursed.  To put it simply, “mom’s who eat a fair amount of junk food regularly are setting their kid’s up for craving these foods, and probably for serious weight issues.”  What’s worse is that this opioid gratification need and the cravings for increasing amounts of junk food appear to be permanent in the child, based on this research.

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    I have been yodeling for some time about the problem of pregnant moms who seem to feel that even if they were healthy eaters or moderately healthy eaters beforehand, they can now consume “anything and everything in sight.”  After all, they're going to get big and heavy and feel unattractive anyway, so why not enjoy all the junk food and normally forbidden foods for nine months?  As a nutritionist, I've never suggested that any food is forbidden, but sure, we all should be treating certain foods as treats or special occasion foods and eating limited amounts of these delectable foods.  So why, I ask, would you decide to feast endlessly on these unhealthy choicess, as a child grows in your womb, feeding off the by-products of the junky foods you’re consuming?  Never made sense to me and still doesn’t, but this study surely suggests why it’s a VERY BAD IDEA!  Aside from the fact that it’s hard enough after pregnancy to lose even the normal amount of weight gain that's considered healthy for a pregnant woman – trying to lose excess weight gained because of a junk-filled diet is extremely daunting.  In fact, most women never lose it all, and gain more excess weight (that doesn’t magically melt away), with future pregnancies.  It also seems pretty intuitive to consider that what you’re eating is what baby is eating while baby grows inside you, and while baby grows while nursing from you.  Frankly, I didn’t need a study to help me come to these conclusions.  I am however shocked to find that the "cravings” stick with your baby and guide your baby’s palate as strongly entrenched habits.  That is hugely disturbing information, and may help to explain in part the obesity trend in kids, especially since in the last few decades, junk food has become a staple in the American diet.


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    Take-away message?  Women need to eat healthfully before considering pregnancy, so their bodies are “set up” for a healthy pregnancy.  Once they are lucky enough to get pregnant, the diet they choose should include a variety of fruits and vegetables, healthy lean proteins (meat and non-meat based), calcium-rich dairy foods or alternatives that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, small amounts of healthy fats, portion-controlled amounts of whole grain products, beans and seeds, nuts and legumes, and foods rich in Folic acid.  Water,low fat or skim milk (or comparable non-dairy milks), and unsweetened teas should be the beverages of choice.  And yes, occasional treats should most certainly provide pleasure, with the emphasis on “occasional.”  Otherwise, a junk-filled diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding might set your child up for health and weight consequences because of a preference and craving for junk foods.


    Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch?  Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103.  Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.   


Published On: May 17, 2013