If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, you no doubt understand the importance of eating well to provide the essential nutrients that you and your baby need at this time. But there’s more to it than this. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits prior to conceiving can not only improve fertility in both men and women but may also affect the future health of your child. That’s right – research is now showing that a child’s future health, including their risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, may be influenced by their parents’ lifestyle habits before they are even conceived.
More than just healthy eating
Optimising your diet prior to conception and eating well during pregnancy is important. But other lifestyle factors also play a part. Improving your activity levels, avoiding harmful substances like alcohol and cigarette smoke, and limiting exposure to environmental chemicals will offer the best chance of a healthy pregnancy and give your baby the best start in life. As discussed below, your eating plan also needs to focus on weight and blood glucose control.
Carrying excess weight can affect fertility (in both partners) and may increase the risk of your child having weight problems later in life. A recent study found that babies born to mothers who are obese have higher levels of body fat and a greater degree of insulin resistance (the underlying problem in PCOS and type 2 diabetes), even as newborns. The good news is that even moderate weight loss (5-10% of your weight) can improve fertility and reduce health risks for you and your baby. Managing your weight gain during pregnancy is also important – gaining excess weight can increase the risk of gestational diabetes (diabetes in pregnancy) and other pregnancy complications. The amount of weight gain you should aim for will depend on your weight prior to conception. You can download your pregnancy weight tracker here.
Blood glucose levels – more than just diabetes
Unless diagnosed with gestational diabetes, most women are not aware of their blood glucose levels in pregnancy and the important role that they play. Glucose is the main fuel for your baby’s development. If your glucose levels are too high, then your baby will grow too fast and be born with excessive amounts of body fat. This is why all pregnant women are routinely screened for gestational diabetes (usually around 26-28 weeks but often earlier if you are at higher risk). What we now know is that even mildly raised glucose levels during pregnancy can affect your baby’s risk of being overweight or developing diabetes down the track. This is why lifestyle is so important – managing your weight, being active and following an eating plan which helps to control blood glucose levels (one with the right balance of protein and carbs and which focuses on low GI carbs) is the key.
To find out more about managing your weight, blood glucose levels and nutrition in preconception and pregnancy get your copy of The Bump to Baby Diet.