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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 continued...

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.

How Mom cares for her baby outside of the womb is also important. A number of studies have touted the benefits of breastfeeding, finding that it can boost children's brainpower and reduce their risk for obesity as they grow.

Once children start on solid foods, feeding them a healthy, well-balanced diet can prevent them from growing into obese adults and from developing diseases related to obesity, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.  Mom also has the important task of instilling in her kids the good eating habits that will lead them into a healthy adulthood.

What About Dad?

It seems like moms are under a lot of pressure for how their kids turn out, but don't the fathers also bear some of the responsibility for their children's future health and well-being? "There is an emerging body of evidence showing that fathers transmit information to their kids through the sperm," Gregg says. "Fathers can have an influence as well."

Not only do fathers contribute part of their child's genes, but they also play an important role in feeding, caring for, and nurturing that child during the early years.

However, our experts stress we shouldn't be placing "blame" on either parent. Scientists are still learning about the interactions between genes and environment and how they might determine a baby's future health, but what they can say with great certainty is that moms (and dads) shouldn't feel guilty about any of the genes they pass down to their children.

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