I found a documentary on BBC One last week about how crucial the first few days and weeks of pregnancy are in the development of babies, fascinating.
In Countdown to Life, Michael Mosley revealed specific research that shows the extraordinary impact that a mother’s diet at the time of conception can have on her child for the rest of its life.
He gave the example of the Dutch Famine. A study conducted on babies of pregnant women living through the famine revealed that their young embryos were twice as likely to develop heart disease in later life. They were also more prone to schizophrenia, obesity, diabetes, cancer and stress-related illnesses.
Basically, Michael Mosley is saying that, during very early development, if a mother eats a diet rich in leafy green vegetables for example, it can change forever how active some of her child’s genes are.
I must stress this article is not meant to scaremonger any mother to be who feels she hasn’t eaten enough vegetables, but rather to explore how foods eaten by women during pregnancy can impact their unborn child in some way or another.
While most expectant mums know to generally stay away from things like raw fish and alcohol, did you know that even eating junk food can have an affect?
By chance, the day after the Countdown to Life documentary was aired, reader Danielle Hignett from Elton contacted me about doing an article about the importance of eating a healthy diet in pregnancy.
Danielle developed weight problems when pregnant with her first child and during this pregnancy and her second following it, she gained four stone due to what she calls ‘bad dietary choices’.
“During my first and second pregnancies I didn’t eat healthily at all,” she said.
“I believed the food I was making was healthy but it was a lot of convenience and packet mixes with plenty of chocolate, takeaways and crisps.
“I was warned about the risks of rapidly increasing weight gain to both me and the baby in my pregnancies but I never really took it on board, although in both of them I had to have a test for gestational diabetes as midwives were concerned I was at risk, as well as also growth scans towards the end.
“Thankfully I didn’t have gestational diabetes but I could have, and it would have been due to the poor diet I was eating,” she remembers.
Because of the weight Danielle gained, she got out of breath easily and was also tired which meant she wasn’t very active, using excuses to avoid doing any exercise.
She finally got to a point where she thought enough was enough, and joined Slimming World where she learned about food optimising and swapping bad food habits for much healthier ones.
Danielle lost five stone and even became a group consultant at both Elton and Hope Farm Methodist Church, so when she got pregnant with her third child in 2013, this time round she was concerned about the implications on her weight, fearing the pattern would repeat itself once more.
However she was determined to continue her new eating habits through pregnancy, as Slimming World have a special policy to support pregnant mums, developed in partnership with the Royal College of Midwives’, and was told managing her weight by avoiding gaining excess weight would help to avoid complications and health issues to both her and her baby.
In this pregnancy and her latest one (she expects her fourth baby in three months) she has felt much more energetic which she truly believes is down to her diet and getting the right balance of all the food groups.
“We don’t encourage weight loss or ‘dieting’ during pregnancy – we support women to adopt a balanced, healthy diet to prevent excess weight gain.
“I haven’t had to have tests for gestational diabetes or growth scans and after the birth of my current youngest, I was active which again I’d say is due to my diet and how it affects everything.”
Danielle, who has now taken up yoga, said: “Slimming World changed the way I think about food, and it’s wonderful to know I’m making the best choices to be healthy through my pregnancy.
“I found that my pregnancy weight quickly dropped off last time as I continued to food optimise; the specially-tailored plan encourages fresh foods like fruit and vegetables, chicken, pasta and potatoes while encouraging extra portions of certain foods for calcium, to ensure my baby and I are getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals.
“I believe getting that variety in pregnancy really helps when it comes to introducing food to the baby at weaning, my two- year-old eats everything, whereas my elder two can be more picky.
“I’m currently helping almost 200 people in my group and I am thrilled I can now pass on my new healthy lifestyle habits to my family and unborn baby.”
- For more information on Danielle’s groups email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every week in Women 2day, Carmella De Lucia explores important issues affecting women in today's world. If you have a story you would like to share for Carmella to feature on the page, email email@example.com.