Good diet in pregnancy 1990s vs. 2017
As a medical student in the nineties, I worked in a research study that looked at the health outcomes of babies born to mothers who were diabetic. Although we were focused on mums with a particular health condition, the common-or-garden advice to all mums was that good diet was important for both mum and baby. It seemed to me there was an assumption that the mother's diet impacted on baby's health only for a few short months: while in the womb and during breast feeding.
However by 2017, medical research into pregnancy diet has moved on. It is now believed that observing a healthy diet in pregnancy is not just important for your baby's first few months but can have an impact for years to come.
Your pregnancy diet reaches way into your child's future
Vegans are hyperaware of what goes into making a healthy diet. However, no matter how health-aware you already are, being pregnant or planning a pregnancy tends to re-focus your mind towards nutrition.
Surfing the net a few days ago, I came across an article on the BBC website which headlined, 'The amazing significance of what a mother-to-be eats'1. The take-home message was that children who were embryos during times of famine were more likely to develop long term health problems such as heart disease, mental illness, diabetes and cancer. Intrigued, I decided to do a bit of digging and this is what I found....
Early nutrition programming
According to the theory of 'early nutrition programming', a mother's pregnancy diet can a have a long-term impact on her children, even when those children move into adulthood. The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children was a large study designed to look at how mothers' diets during pregnancy impacted on the health of their children. The results were published in 2015 in the journal Nutrition Reviews2. The paper raised a number of interesting points such as:
- If you are overweight or gain too much weight during pregnancy, your child is also more likely to be overweight. This means that she or he is more likely to develop into an adult who suffers from heart problems, type 2 diabetes and the myriad other health problems associated with being overweight.
- Eating fish during pregnancy was proven to benefit brain development, eyesight communication skills and verbal IQ. These benefits are attributed to omega-3 fatty acids which are easily found in a healthy vegan diet which includes hemp, chia and flax seeds as well as walnuts and kiwi fruit. Iodine also plays an important role here - common sources for vegans include seaweed and soy products.
For years we have been told that in order to prevent conditions such as neural tube defects, folic acid supplementation is important around the periods of conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The scientific evidence backs this advice. However, we now know that prenatal and postnatal exposure to an unhealthy diet which is low in folic acid as well as other vital nutrients, is associated with behavioural and emotional problems in children3. And of course, if these conditions are not managed adequately, they will persist into adulthood. What is more, being overweight while pregnant can also impact on your baby's future academic ability, including skills such as reading and spelling4.
Avoid Expensive Supplements: Save Money and Eat Well
A 2016 paper in the British Medical Journal stated that expensive multivitamin and mineral supplements aimed at pregnant women are just a complete waste of money, especially if they already eat a balanced and nourishing diet. So while folic acid and vitamin D may be recommended in individual cases and in different stages of pregnancy, unless otherwise advised by healthcare professionals, women should not spend their hard earned money on supplements but on eating a healthy diet5.
Eat Good Food!
Commenting on the paper, 'Pre-Pregnancy Diet Linked to Birth Defects' David Jacobs, Ph.D makes the seemingly obvious point, 'Women of childbearing age should eat good food'6. Good food means healthy food rich in vitamins and minerals. Vegans know this well. So, if you are planning to become pregnant or are already expecting, you just need to Eat Good Food to give you and your baby the best start in life. And the best possible future.
Dr. Louise McElheron
BSc (Hons. Biochem.) MB. BCh. BaO. BA(Hons.Lit.) MA (English)
2 Pauline M. Emmett, Louise R. Jones, Jean Golding; Pregnancy diet and associated outcomes in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.Nutr Rev2015; 73 (suppl_3): pp.154-174. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4586451/
3 Prenatal and postnatal exposure to an unhealthy diet is associated with behavioural and emotional problems in children. Evidence-Based Mental Health 2014;17:38.
4 Pugh SJ, Hutcheon JA, Richardson GA, et al Child academic achievement in association with pre-pregnancy obesity and gestational weight gain http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2016/01/04/jech-2015-206800.full?jech-2015-206800v1cjech-2015-206800v1
5 Kmietowicz Zosia. Multivitamin and mineral supplements in pregnancy are unnecessary expense, review finds BMJ 2016; 354:i3 821 K https://www.rcm.org.uk/news-views-and-analysis/news/pregnancy-multivitamins-are-an-unnecessary-expense-review-says
6 Mary Ann Moon, Obs. Gyn. News. Pre-Pregnancy Diet Linked to Birth Defects. Publish date: November 1, 2011 http://www.mdedge.com/obgynnews/article/50243/obstetrics/pre-pregnancy-diet-linked-birth-defects