4 Surprising Foods That Affect Your Baby During and After Pregnancy
Your body goes through a host of changes in pregnancy—as does your diet. You shore up on nutrients you need more of (folate, iron), cut back on options you need less of (refined sugars, caffeine), give up most things raw (fish, cheese), and toast your future little one with sparkling water. In some ways, the pre- and postnatal diet is clean eating at its best. And while many of these food-based principles have been around for decades, researchers continue to examine new associations between maternal nutrition and newborn health—including a number of recent findings that might alter what you decide to put on your plate or skip. Here, four surprising dietary recommendations to have on your radar and discuss with your ob-gyn at checkup time.
1. Consider tabling artificial sweeteners.
A new study published this month in JAMA Pediatrics found that women who consumed at least one artificially sweetened beverage per day during pregnancy were twice as likely to have an overweight child at 1 year of age compared to those who skipped these beverages. “One possible explanation is that our metabolism is programmed in utero, and consistent exposure to these artificial sweeteners could change how your body reacts to actual sugar, causing increased weight gain,” says Meghan Azad, PhD, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics and child health at the University of Manitoba. The findings, which are part of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study, did not show any correlation with fetal body weight, which suggests the effects of artificial sweeteners could surface later in life and possibly have a lasting impact.
2. Up your intake of PUFAs and probiotics.
Studies show that eating polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and probiotics might decrease risk for allergies. “Newborns first acquire their gut microbiome from their mothers during birth,” explains Azad. This mini ecosystem is filled with microorganisms that keep our immune system robust. PUFAs can improve how certain cells respond to foreign substances while probiotics optimize beneficial bacteria to defend against pathogens. Good sources for PUFAs include walnut oil and flaxseed; for probiotics, look for yogurt and kefir that contain live and active cultures.
3. Embrace all the spices you want.
For years, women were told to eat bland foods while breast-feeding, for fear that spicy ones might discourage a baby from feeding well. Recent studies debunk that theory: In fact, newborns tend to feed longer when their mothers have a diet that includes aromatic flavors, such as garlic and vanilla. “Babies will [nurse] longer when they’re exposed to all sorts of flavors,” says Julie Mennella, PhD, a biopsychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center who has authored numerous studies on the subject. “Their sensory and brain development is geared toward this—babies are really open to learning about new foods.” And the more varied your meals are, the most likely it is your baby will accept novel foods, too.
4. Don’t skimp on choline.
Folate, iron, and calcium usually top the list of pregnancy super-nutrients. But recent studies show most women—including those in high-income countries—do not get adequate levels of choline, a key nutrient that’s important for fetal brain development, says nutritionist Linda Sebelia, RD, an adjunct professor at the University of Rhode Island. Good sources include eggs, tofu, lean beef, and Brussels sprouts. Aim for 450 milligrams a day if you’re pregnant and 550 milligrams a day if you’re breast-feeding.