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- A study published last year August suggested that a diet high in fat and sugar during pregnancy could potentially affect the baby’s brain development.
- The study linked foods rich in fat and sugar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and behavioural problems like propensity to lying, fighting and stealing, primarily due to changes that occur in the DNA of the child.
“We found that that prenatal high-sugar, high-fat diets influence methylation around a gene referred to as IGF2, involved in metabolism of food as well as brain development,” said Edward Baker, the lead researcher in the study.
Baker, a development psychologist at Kings College London, warned that the true effects of high-fat and high-sugar diets during pregnancy could be worse among poor people; where deprivation is high and nutrition options are fewer.
The findings by Baker and his colleagues have been published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
And while the team only investigated the effects food rich in fat and sugar, there are crucial nutritional options that could potentially interfere with development of a foetus in the womb.
“Of course it is imperative that expectant mothers get it right with nutrition. From conception to the time a baby grows to two years the kind of nutrition that they receive – in the womb and outside – will determine their IQ and general health,” says Gladys Mugambi, the head of nutrition at Ministry of Health.
Are you eating the right thing for your pregnancy? If it is not right, how can it affect your baby?
Expectant mothers commit nutritional mistakes that could harm the health and well-being of the baby. We have captured five critical meals that every pregnant woman should avoid.
1. Fat and sugars
Before a woman sets forth to be pregnant, it will be important for her to make sure that she is within a healthy weight and not obese, says Dr Lyudmila Shchukina, an obesity specialist at East Africa Bariatric clinic. She says: “Fat and sugar are the main contributors to overweight and obesity, which in turn predisposes one to obesity and high blood pressure.”
Shchukina further argues: “Don’t start pregnancy when you are already obese. And if an obese pregnant mother develops diabetes there is a real risk of their babies being born with diabetes too.” But aside from that, a diet high in fat and sugars will result to a big baby, which may result in complicated and difficult birth. At the same time, a diet high in fat and sugar heightens the risks for pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and postpartum haemorrhage.
The weight of an expectant mother is a key factor in the health of both mother and baby. Gynaecologists will monitor the weight of a pregnant woman, “to make sure that she is not gaining anything more than 0.5Kg per week. At full term, healthy weight gain is between 10 and 14Kg,” Dr Mutiso says.
2. Non-nutritious substances: pica
Have you ever bumped into a pregnant woman feasting on a porous rock (or soil)? It is a fairly common phenomenon in Kenyan culture. In medical terms the habit is referred to as pica.
“It is because I am pregnant,” some will defend their actions. If you have ever thought such activity crass you are right; in the sense that it is totally dangerous and unhealthy. “The soil is teeming with parasitic eggs and pathogens,” says Dr Stephen Mutiso, an obstetrician/gynaecologist at Kenyatta National Hospital. “The eater risks getting infected with worms, bacteria, fungi and viruses. If that eater is a pregnant woman an infection would also put the foetus in danger.”
Usually, says Esther Kariuki, a nutritionist, eating soil is a sign of lacking minerals like iron.
“The best way to replenish that mineral in your system is to eat foods rich in iron like meat,” she adds.
Just imagine nicely done pieces of liver: don’t they seem just too sweet to say no to? That liver has a soft texture that teeth easily sink into can’t make it any better.
And yet that is exactly what health professionals require of pregnant women. “Liver contains high amounts of vitamin A,” says Esther, “which is considered dangerous to a baby’s development.”
If a pregnant woman has to eat liver, advises Esther, she has to eat as little as possible.
“She should avoid liver altogether. We recommend regular meats instead of liver. An expectant mother can get enough vitamin A from vegetables like carrot and iron from meat,” Esther adds.
4. Certain beverages
Beverages containing alcohol, caffeine, processed sugar or laced with hard-core drugs like marijuana and heroin, should be avoided during pregnancy.
Caffeine has been linked to low birth weight which could lead to a series of health problems for the newborn. A study led by two Australian researchers, Dr Stuart Reece and Professor Gary Hulse from the University of Western Australia’s School of Psychiatry found that cannabis can alter DNA and therefore expose a baby to serious illnesses. As for alcohol, researchers from University of Helsinki led by Dr Nina Kaminen-Ahola fed female mice alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy. In their findings, released in July 2015, the team found that the offspring of the mice showed signs similar to foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in humans.
“The results support our assumption that alcohol permanently alters gene regulation at a very early stage,” Dr Kaminen-Ahola is quoted in British press. FAS tampers with brain development. Affected children have distinct facial features like small and narrow eyes and a small head.
5. Unpasteurised milk and other dairy products
Milk is rich in calcium and hence nutritious for any human being. However, what is not good for a pregnant mother is milk that has not undergone pasteurisation. If you can only access raw milk then boil it before usage. Unpasteurised milk – including products derived from it like cheese – often contain dangerous bacteria like listeria and E.coli.
All types of yoghurt are fine. A yoghurt buyer should however read labelling to be sure that what they are buying is not homemade and was prepared from pasteurised milk.
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