This past year has seen a number of stories regarding the connection between prenatal health and childhood obesity. Recent studies have linked everything from a pregnant mom's weight gain, to her level of exercise, to the pesticides to which she is exposed to the likelihood that her baby will develop childhood obesity.
The latest research is connecting the dots and putting these links together — theorizing that it is the overall conditions in the womb which can directly influence a baby's propensity to obesity.
Researchers are beginning to understand that what a mother eats during her pregnancy does more than provide her body and her baby's body with nourishment. It also sends signals to her fetus that influence appetite and metabolism for the rest of the child's life. So, if a pregnant mom's diet is rich in fat, salt and sugar, it may predispose her child to crave this type of diet (and gain excessive weight) as well.
Researchers also think that the chemicals in the womb play a role in a baby's future tendency toward obesity. The theory is that estrogen-like compounds in some hand lotions or shampoos used by pregnant women may disrupt a developing baby's endocrine system, which helps control metabolism.
The good news is that the trend is reversible. Babies who are born to obese moms or who are exposed to a number of chemicals in the womb are not doomed to a life of obesity themselves. Certainly, the environment in which they grow up, and the foods and lifestyle to which they are exposed, can directly influence and change this course. But health experts warn that it is much more difficult to change this direction than it would be to get a baby started off on the right course to begin with.
So what does this mean for moms who are pregnant or hoping to become so? It means you need to have a long chat with your health care provider about the best ways to care for your baby in the womb. The best foods to eat. The best ways to get exercise. And the worst chemicals and products to avoid.
Trust me, I am not one to dish out the guilt to pregnant moms. But it turns out those nine months may truly mean the difference between and lifetime of health problems and a lifetime of healthy living for your baby. And that is certainly worth looking in to.