How our diet during pregnancy effect the developing baby?

Pregnancy is a great opportunity for a woman to improve her eating habits. Not only for her own sake, but also for sake of the new person growing inside her.

From fried pickles to ice cream at midnight, women experience unusual food cravings during pregnancy. This is caused by the extreme hormonal shifts that occur in the body, but also by the lack of balance between nutrients that it receives. So even if you have never liked chips, but now you find yourself in front of the shelves with such products in the store – do not be alarmed, you are not the only one! Here it is important to emphasize that the body craves such foods when it needs quick and high-calorie energy. Probably, as a consequence of the unsatisfied increased needs for sufficient proteins, fats and carbohydrates, as well as vitamins and minerals, which a pregnancy requires. But this is another topic that we will discuss in a separate article.

Now let’s see how unhealthy foods (and here I mean packaged foods rich in saturated fat, sugar and salt) affect the developing baby.

4 surprising ways unhealthy food affects your baby

There are obvious reasons why we should choose almonds instead of an almond waffle. Junk food cannot provide the nutrients needed for the proper growth and development of your baby’s body, including its brain, bones, immune system and organs. Unhealthy food not only lacks the key nutrients you need to feed to your baby, but it could also have negative effects long after the double-chocolate shake stain is gone from your blouse. Although most studies in the field have been done on rodents (and we humans are much more complex!), they give food for thought. Here’s what the latest research shows about how food affects a developing baby.

  1. In a study of rodents published in Frontiers in Endocrinology (2017), scientists trace the relationship between the mother’s diet and the baby weight, and the relationship between food and brain development. It turns out that rodents that eat junk food during pregnancy give birth to heavier babies that develop a strong preference for fat immediately after weaning. The researchers have study how a balanced diet during childhood affects this type of “acquired” preference for fat, and show that this craving for fatty foods actually decreases. However, according to the study, the children show a weakness for this type of food even in adulthood.
  2. Increased risk of allergies: regular intake of foods high in sugar can wreak havoc not only on your cardiovascular system, but can also have an adverse effect on the baby. A study in the European Respiratory Journal shows that in women who regularly consumed “free sugars” during pregnancy – i.e. foods with added sugar, whether in the form of sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey or fruit juices – there is 38% increased risk of allergies for their child between 7 and 9 years of age. Mothers have also noticed a staggering 101% increase in their children’s risk of allergic asthma following the unhealthy lifestyle. Surprisingly, the children’s consumption of sugars in infancy did not affect the results.
  3. Increased risk of heart disease As if we need more good reasons to reach a healthy body mass index before pregnancy: A study of Cell Reports shows that pregnant overweight rats who follow high-fat and high-sugar diet before pregnancy, can transmit genetic abnormalities to three future generations. What could this mean? Increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  4. Increased risk of junk food addiction. A study published in The FASEB Journal, reports that pregnant rats who consumed junk food actually program their offspring to be addicted to a high-fat, high-sugar diet by the time they are weaned. Why? These tasty treats seem to make the brain’s normal reward system less sensitive. This leads to the inability to experience satiety and satisfaction when eating, which in turn can cause overeating.
  5. What to eat for breakfast when you’re pregnant Besides the negative effects on the baby, too much unhealthy food can also make pregnancy harder than it needs to be. A poor diet can increase the risk of several pregnancy-related symptoms, such as fatigue, heartburn, stretch marks and gestational diabetes. Ideally, pregnant women would reduce their intake of highly processed foods with white flour, sugar and artificial additives. Trans fats, such as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, are particularly harmful during pregnancy, as are products high in saturated fat.
Profile portrait of happy young pregnant model holding green apple. Smiling future mom expecting baby on her second trimester sitting on bed and eating fruits. Prenatal healthy food concept

Now let’s be a little more positive!

The good news? The flip side is also true: Proper nutrition can make pregnancy easier and keep your baby in good health, from enhancing the development of the tissues and the brain, to building bones and the immune system. If, however, your cravings for fat, sweet or salt is irresistible, then don’t fight it – just find the right alternatives to satisfy it. Focusing solely on what to avoid can quickly lead to feelings of deprivation, also changing habits is done by replacing them with healthier ones, not by eliminating them.

Here are some junk food alternatives to satisfy your cravings:

If you’re craving: potato chips, nachos, Cheetos

Reach for: kale chips (amazing source of folic acid!), beet chips or dried seaweed. Simply cut the vegetable into very thin strips and dry it in the oven for a long time at 80 degrees for about 3-4 hours.

If you are craving: candy, cakes

Reach for: Bananas, apples, or other fruit (make them a little more tempting by adding almond butter or a drizzle of melted dark chocolate). You can also add a few dates, which are a great source of fiber and can improve digestion and prevent constipation during pregnancy. When consumed regularly in combination with other beneficial changes.

If you are craving: ice cream

Reach for: fruit yogurt with added ginger (bonus! – it can help ease morning sickness). Healthy frozen banana, blueberry, and avocado ice cream is a super great option to satisfy the senses!

Crafty, right? These little healthy tricks will make you feel not only physically better, but also mentally, knowing that you are providing the best environment for your baby’s development! If you are ready to face the best way of eating for yourself, taking into account your individual blood counts and medical history, please do not hesitate to book an appointment with Neli, our Clinical Nutritional Therapist, on 087 622 2711.


Center for Fetal Medicine

Get informed about the world of Fetal Medicine with Dr. Boris Stoilov.

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