When a woman gets pregnant she wants to do all she can to make sure she “grows” the healthiest baby. There are some key things a new mum can do to help her along that route.
Research in health-promoting compounds like omega 3 fatty acids and probiotics have shed new light on how to optimize a pregnancy and the neonatal diet. We also know more on how to reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes which can increase the mother’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Reducing the Risk of Gestational Diabetes
As many as 9 out of every 100 pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes (GD). When you are pregnant your cells become slightly resistant to insulin. This raises the mother’s blood sugar which helps make more nutrients available for the baby. However, if the mum’s cells become too resistant to insulin it can lead to chronic high blood sugar and GD which can cause problems for mother and baby.
What Kind of Problems?
Well, for one, you could have a really big baby! Which could lead to a caesarean section. It also increases the risk that the baby could develop paediatric obesity. The mother will have an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes as well.
So how do we make sure this doesn’t happen? Well, there are controllable and uncontrollable risk factors. Let’s take a look at all of them:
- 35 years of age or older
- Mother’s obesity (BMI over 30).
- Aboriginal, Hispanic, South Asian, Asian or African descent
- Previously given birth to a baby over 4kg (9lbs) or having GD in previous pregnancy
- Using corticoseteroid medication
- Direct relative with type 2 diabetes
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Having prediabetes
Whether obesity and prediabetes are “controllable” may be up for debate, but diet and daily activity can have a positive impact on both. Starting your pregnancy at a healthy body weight and moderating your blood glucose levels will help reduce your risk of developing GD.
One study that looked at diets of women before they got pregnant showed that every 10 gram increase in daily fibre intake correlated in a 26 percent reduction in risk for developing GD. That’s a hefty reduction.
Increasing your fibre intake to recommended levels can help with weight loss and will help keep your blood sugar levels in check. It is recommended that we get 14g of fibre for every 1000 calories; however, counting calories, let alone fibre, can be very difficult to judge. Instead, focus on eating fibre-rich foods. What are they? Plants. In particular, vegetables, fruits, legumes and intact grains and raw nuts. If plant-based, unprocessed food forms the bulk of your diet, you will meet and even exceed the recommended fibre intake easily.
Daily exercise and activity can also help keep your blood sugar in check. Before pregnancy ensure you are meeting the recommended guidelines for activity. They may be more than you think! Check them out here. Once you are pregnant, check first with your doctor before you start an exercise regime.
Let’s Talk Omega 3s.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, which means you need to get them from your diet as we cannot make them inside our bodies.
Why are they important in pregnancy?
Studies have shown that Omega 3 supplementation during pregnancy may help reduce the risk of preterm birth. Other studies have found that omega 3s reduced the risk of the child developing asthma, lower respiratory tract infections, atopic eczema and allergy to eggs.
You can increase your consumption of omega 3s by eating oily fish (with low mercury count) such as wild salmon, sardines, herring, sablefish and mackerel (Alaskan or Atlantic, not King mackerel which has elevated mercury levels). Other sources of a weaker form of omega 3, called alpha linolenic acid (ALA), include walnuts, flax and chia seeds.
Probiotics & Baby’s Microbiome
Gut colonization by beneficial bacteria in early life is vital for establishing the gut mucosal barrier, developing the immune system and preventing infections. Proper development of the gut mucosal barrier and immune system is vital to help the reduce risk of your child developing auto-immune diseases and allergies later in life.
The mode of delivery, early feeding methods (breastfeeding vs formula) and anti-biotic use all influence the baby’s microbiome. Unfortunately, we don’t always get to choose the way our baby decides to enter the world or whether mum or baby requires anti-biotics. However, if there is an element of choice in your delivery, babies born through the birth canal are inoculated with a host of beneficial bacteria that will positively affect their microbiome. Similarly, breastfed infants will also benefit from a host of health-promoting bacteria as flora can travel from the mother’s gut to her breast milk.
Further, not everyone is able to breastfeed and emergency C-sections do occur. If that’s the case, there are other ways to help promote your baby’s gut flora. Probiotic supplementation by the mother throughout pregnancy has been shown to improve gastrointestinal function in infants and reduce the frequency of necrotising enterocolitis (NE) in preterm babies. NE is a bacterial infection in the wall of the baby’s intestine. Probiotic supplementation during pregnancy and throughout breastfeeding (if possible) was also found to have protective effect against childhood asthma.
Eating a well-balanced, nourishing diet can help ensure your growing baby gets all s/he needs. That means eating a wide variety of unprocessed natural food like vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, fibre-rich carbohydrates and good quality protein. Food, their nutrients and phytochemicals work synergistically together affording maximum benefits. While supplements can provide a safety net, and some will likely be necessary during pregnancy, they should be used in combination with a wholesome, varied diet and not in replace of it.
If you are pregnant or planning a baby and would like more information and personalized advice, feel free to contact me.
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