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Women's Health

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Blame Your Health on Mom? Not So Fast

Your mom can do a lot to help your health, but don’t be too quick to blame her when it goes wrong.

Mom's Diet Counts

How the mother eats not only during her pregnancy but throughout her life can have an effect on her baby's health. "Babies live off the mother's body," Barker says. "And her body is the product of a lifetime of nutrition." In other words, mom's diet back in her own childhood can come back to either haunt -- or help -- her growing baby. He says mothers have to establish a lifetime of good nutrition, and not just eat a healthy diet while they're pregnant for it to make a difference to their children's health.

Kjersti Aagaard, MD, PhD, calls the first nine months in the womb -- as well as the child's first years out of the womb -- "programming for health." "There is no doubt that what happens in the first 1,000 days of life, from conception to 2 years of age, are fundamental influences not only on metabolism ... but also on our developmental health and well-being," says the assistant professor of maternal and fetal medicine and obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine. "Kids [who are] given an optimal environment and optimal nutrition very early in life, that groundwork is laid."

Scientists are learning that the choices moms make during pregnancy not only directly affect their baby's health, they might even lead to changes in the baby's genes. A new field called epigenetics is looking at how nutrition and other factors in pregnancy might alter the way the baby's genes function. One study done in rats found that eating a poor diet during pregnancy affected a gene linked to the production of insulin in the young -- a change that scientists say could increase the offspring's risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. It's not yet clear if the same is true for people.

So what does all this new research mean for Mom? It means that her contribution is to provide the healthiest possible vessel for her baby, which includes eating a balanced diet and following good habits (such as not smoking) not only while she's pregnant, but throughout her life.

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