Another reason why paying attention to what you eat during pregnancy is so important for your health and that of your baby-to-be? An animal study conducted at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute found that when baboon mothers were moderately undernourished while pregnant and breastfeeding, their offspring consistently developed insulin resistance (also called pre-diabetes) by the time they reached adolescence.
As the San Antonio Express-News reports, some baboons in the study were fed a healthy diet during pregnancy while another group of primate moms ate a nutrient-restricted diet similar to the limited diets of human moms who are "food insecure", a term used to describe those who are unsure where their next meal is coming from. These diets tend to be low in fresh fruits and vegetables and quality sources of protein and high in refined sugar, white flour, and unhealthy fats.
According to researchers, baboons born to the restricted-diet mothers all showed signs of pre-diabetes, a precursor to Type 2 diabetes, even before reaching adolescence. None of the normal-diet offspring showed such symptoms. Human moms aren't primates, of course, but scientists think that prenatal diet may play a similar role in why some children seem more at risk for diabetes.
"Time in the womb and following birth is vitally important to proper development," lead researcher, Dr. Peter W. Nathanielsz of the School of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center, tells the Express-News. "If the nutrition environment is deficient, a baby's organs won't grow and develop properly [including the insulin-producing pancreas], leaving them predisposed to long-term illness."
Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby
Having trouble figuring out just what a healthy prenatal diet entails? With so much evidence emerging that eating well during pregnancy is important—for both you and your baby—long after pregnancy is over, don't be shy about asking your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian for help constructing nutritious, pregnancy-friendly meals and snacks.
Over the course of normal prenatal care, you might even be asked point blank if "food insecurity" is an issue for you. If it is, admit it. Your doctor or midwife can make appropriate referrals to local and government food assistance programs for moms, including WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), a program specifically designed to provide mothers and young children with access to more nutritious foods.
Already eating well? Doing everything you can to minimize your child's risk for Type 2 diabetes doesn't end in the delivery room. Dr. Nathanielsz says the new findings about prenatal nutrition and Type 2 risk are important, but shouldn't put an end to efforts to get children to eat better and be more physically active.
"The study shows that poor nutrition during this susceptible period in the womb sets up a child for trouble," Dr. Nathanielsz says. "Later, if the child is sedentary or eats a poor diet, he'll be more likely to develop diabetes. So both parts of the equation are important."