The nutrition your baby receives during this crucial period will have the most impact on how they grow and their future wellbeing.
Your diet will have a direct effect on the formation of your baby’s organs, development, nervous system and how they grow towards being an adult.
A poor maternal diet or exposure to environmental toxins creates lifelong adaptive changes in the baby. Pregnancy forms the building blocks for growth, and a poor foundation can lead to possible health and development problems in the future.
Your baby’s appetite is programmed during your pregnancy. What you eat will have a direct influence on your baby’s tastes and what they’ll like to eat when they’re eating solid food. So it pays to be proactive and make smart decisions about your diet. Your own and your baby’s health depend on what food choices you make.
A very strong recommendation from researchers is to stop smoking. This will reduce the risk of your baby developing allergies. Parental smoking is linked with a range of health problems so do yourself and your baby a favour by ceasing altogether.
It may be stating the obvious, but eating a healthy diet while your baby is still growing will mean they are less likely to be overweight or obese as adults. You need to stay within a healthy weight range and to check your BMI (Body Mass Index).
It’s also important to weigh yourself regularly and aim not to gain too much weight in the first half of your pregnancy. Doing this will increase the chances of your baby being born too heavy and being overweight as they grow up.
Focus on eating a diet high in vegetables and fruit, nuts, legumes, pulses and beans. Don’t ignore both red and white meat as well as fish. These are all excellent protein sources.
We’re all guilty of snacking in between meals but there’s real value in stopping. Instead, eat three main meals a day and limit yourself to just two healthy snacks. Protein at each main meal will help keep your hunger at bay. And while we’re on the subject of protein, make sure you eat enough of it. Just this simple habit will reduce the risk of your child seeking high fat foods and potentially becoming overweight.
Importantly, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to eat for two. Your unborn baby will get all they need from your diet.
The science is clear; it’s really beneficial for mothers to breastfeed for as long as possible. If you can’t breastfeed then consider offering your baby expressed breast milk as an alternative.
If breastfeeding is not working for you then the only safe alternative is baby formula up to the age of 12 months. Choose a formula with a low protein concentration. High protein intake can lead to babies becoming overweight and obese.
When it’s time to offer your baby solids, then introduce iron, zinc and protein rich foods at around six months of age. These will help your baby’s brain growth and overall development.
Aim to feed your baby home cooked foods. They taste better, have more texture, and provide more complete nutrition than store bought baby food. And don’t be too concerned about what you’ve heard regarding eggs and peanut butter. Exposure to both is protective against allergies. Give your baby whole eggs and peanut butter during their first year.
Avoid offering purees for too long because chewing helps to support speech development.
Increase the texture of your baby’s solid food when they are developmentally ready and be sensitive to your baby’s hunger cues. Avoid over feeding them. They will let you know when they are full by turning away, closing their mouth, fussing and not swallowing any more food.
Introduce your baby to a spout or sipper cup at around six months and try to stop all bottles at around 12 months.
Remember not to offer your baby any fruit juice, tea, coffee soft drinks or cordial. None of them are necessary.
Article by Jane Barry, midwife and child health nurse and Philips AVENT spokesperson.