The concept of fetal programming (also called prenatal programming) theorizes that during fetal development, poor intake of one or more essential nutrients during critical periods in an organ’s growth can potentially alter or program the structure, size or function of that organ for the rest of the child’s life. The developing baby will attempt to compensate for deficiencies in the womb, but that compensation can carry a price later in life.
Eighty-eight percent of mothers and women who are currently pregnant agree that a diet including nutritious foods, beverages and vitamins will have a positive long term effect on their child’s health, according to a recent survey conducted by NMI Research and DSM Nutritional Products. However, despite this awareness, 99 out of 100 Americans don’t meet even the minimum standards of a balanced diet.
“Many pregnant women think they are doing OK diet-wise, but in reality they are likely not getting the essential vitamins and nutrients that they and their babies need through diet alone. For instance, the average American eats four servings or less of fruits and vegetables daily, which means they may be lacking essential nutrients like vitamins A, C, E and K,” says Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of “Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy.”
Today, women who are pregnant have the option to supplement their diets with prenatal vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. Somer provides nutrition tips for mothers to help support their child’s future health.
Tip No. 1: A mother’s diet rich in vitamin B12 has been found to correlate to a lower risk for insulin resistance in her child later in life, according to the Prune Maternal Nutrition Study. Vitamin B12 is essential for the formation of blood cells, nerve sheaths and various proteins, and is also necessary for growth. Sources of B12 include meat, eggs, fish and milk products.
Tip No. 2: Vitamin C status has been shown to lower oxidative damage to fetal tissues and lower the risk for heart problems later in life. Stock your fruit and vegetable basket with popular food sources of vitamin C, including citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, broccoli, spinach and tomatoes.
Tip No. 3: There is emerging evidence that vitamin D deficiency may be a risk factor for many chronic diseases, including rickets, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, type 1 diabetes and cancer, according to a study published in the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. You can find a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement that includes vitamin D and is formulated for the needs of women who are pregnant.
Tip No. 4: DHA omega-3 is an important building block of a baby’s brain. In fact, 97 percent of the omega-3s found in the brain is DHA. Primary sources of DHA include fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon) and a vegetarian and sustainable source of DHA from algae can be found in foods, beverages and supplements on store shelves. Look for the life’sDHA logo on the packaging to know you’re getting a vegetarian source.
Tip No. 5: Children born of mothers with low folate status during pregnancy were 57 percent more likely to have emotional problems later in life, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Increase your folate or folic acid intake by eating dark leafy greens or supplementing with 600 to 800 micrograms of folic acid daily.
It is important to talk with your doctor before starting any supplement program.