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A Pregnant Mother's Diet Could Have A Lifelong Impact On Her Baby

09/01/2017 11:56 PM IST | Updated 17/01/2017 3:52 PM IST

I normally write about potentially unsafe food that people eat, or chemicals and pesticides added to food, etc. This time, I'm writing about the food that someone else consumes. Can that affect a person? Actually, yes. The food a pregnant or lactating mother consumes can seriously affect her child.

According to UNICEF, 48%, or 61 million children in India under the age of five are stunted. A child is classified as stunted when his/her height is two or more standard deviations below the median of the WHO child growth standards. According to UNICEF, the process leading to stunting starts when women who are undernourished and anaemic get pregnant.

We have a duty to our kids to keep them healthy, and that duty begins even before they are born.

The UNICEF report also associates stunting with an underdeveloped brain, leading to diminished mental ability and learning capacity, poor academic performance, reduced earning ability, and the risk of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity in the future. Mental stunting is irreversible after the child is two years old.

The UNICEF report deals with the consequences of malnourishment among pregnant and lactating women, but even if an expecting or lactating mother isn't affected by malnutrition, she needs to be careful about her diet. According to a 2011 study, published in the Open Cardiovascular Medical Journal, a low glycaemic index (GI) diet during pregnancy is associated with benefits to foetal growth, the child's birth weight, reduced adiposity, etc. The study stressed the importance of a balanced maternal diet, especially with regard to carbohydrate quality during pregnancy and lactation in preventing diet-induced adiposity and associated metabolic disruption in the children.

A 2009 study, published in Pediatric Allergy and Immunology also found a direct link between consumption of citrus fruit by women during pregnancy and increased sensitisation to inhalant allergens in their children. The same study also found that increased Vitamin D intake among the women reduced their children's sensitivity to the same allergens.

Another study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that maternal milk consumption is associated with greater foetal weight gain. It concluded that the association was due to milk protein, or milk components closely associated with protein. However, the study did note that the association was limited to milk, and was not found with any other source of protein. It also noted that maternal milk consumption was not associated with gains in foetal length.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that a mother's diet, both quality and quantity wise, during pregnancy and lactation has the potential to seriously affect the health of her child. Women and families must be made aware of the kind of diet to follow during pregnancy and lactation. For this, access to quality medical advice is essential. We have a duty to our kids to keep them healthy, and that duty begins even before they are born.

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