Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy

To ensure a healthy pregnancy, it's vital to focus on your well-being from the moment you plan to conceive. Your health before and throughout pregnancy, as well as during breastfeeding, plays a crucial role in your baby's future health.

The choices you make in the first 1000 days, from conception to your child's second birthday, are key in reducing the risk of obesity in your children.

The Impact of Your Diet in Pregnancy

Risk factors for lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and obesity all start prior to and during pregnancy. The impact of a mother's diet on her unborn baby is profound on many levels. A mom who is a healthy body weight and maintains her blood sugar and insulin levels during her pregnancy will be more likely to deliver a healthy-weight baby.

Both babies born big for gestational age and small for gestational age are at a risk of obesity later in in life. Babies born too small for gestational age can be likened to us going on a diet and restricting our calorie intake. Then, when we resume an adequate intake, our bodies store food in case of future famines, and so we then gain more fat weight. It is similar when babies who are born too small or too big are then programmed to hold onto fats as they grow.

Being underweight for a pregnant mom is as much of a risk factor as being overweight. So a pregnant mother should really use this opportunity to establish healthy eating patterns.

How Fat Cells Develop

Being an overweight toddler increases the risk of being an overweight child, which in turn increases the risk of being an overweight teen and adult. Fat cells have two components to them: the type, and the size. Both white fat cells and brown fat cells exist in our bodies. Demand-fed babies and healthily fed children tend to develop brown fat cells, which eventually shed over the years. White fat cells, on the other hand, are the ones that cause obesity. The amount of these cells in your body generally sticks, and they are with you for life, so the more of these cells our children lay down, the higher the risk of obesity - and it's more of a challenge to maintain a healthy body weight later in life.

The white fat cells seldom disappear, but they can shrink with a positive changes in diet and lifestyle habits. It is believed that it can take up to two years for a white fat cell to disappear. What normally happens is that when we go on a diet and restrict our intake, we shrink our fat cells and manage to maintain this for a while. However, if the diet is unrealistic and difficult to stick to, we then start to eat normally. Our existing fat cells fill up with fat, and additional fat cells are created. That is why diets don't work and why we need to feed our children appropriately in the first 1000 days (from conception to the toddler years), and then during subsequent seven years.

How and When We Eat

Babies are intuitive eaters, and this means they eat when they are hungry and stop eating when they are full. We are a society of structure and routine, and very hurried. So we have set mealtimes, and we also have limited time for meals. As a result, our babies and children are scheduled very early on so there are times for eating, and time frames to eat within.

This totally negates intuitive eating. However, we can't get away from eating like this, so we need to find a middle ground. Scheduled eating times are inevitable, and designated eating areas (such as a dining room or kitchen) are helpful. Even eating time frames are beneficial in our rushed lives.

However, what we can allow our children to manage is their hungry and full cues. So we must provide the time to eat, and present the food to eat in a designated area. Then how much they eat is up to them. We need to respect their feeding cues - this means that some meals will be all eaten up, and others not. We need to provide at least six opportunities to eat during a 12-hour day: in this way, if children are not hungry at the one opportunity, they will have another opportunity to eat again later.

Plan Ahead for Healthy Meals

Lack of time is a huge crisis in our society, and it has a direct impact on our health and the health of our families. With some planning and good choices, however, we can still manage our time and feed ourselves and our children healthy foods.

Take-aways and fast foods appear to be a quick fix. However, in a recent experiment, it was found that the time needed to order take-away food, wait for it to be prepared, then fetch it, is about two thirds of the time it takes to prepare a simple meal from scratch! The difference, however, is that a home-prepped meal does take some advance planning around what you will prepare, and also what ingredients you'll need.

The rule of thumb is to keep it simple, and aim to have a basic two-week cycle menu that you can rotate. You can have one two-week menu for summer, and another for winter. Make easy meals and try to double prep, for example, if you are cooking mince, double up the quantities and use one batch for spaghetti bolognaise and one batch for cottage pie.

When you are just too rushed to cook a homemade meal from scratch, there are other options which could work for one or two nights a week. Some companies make and deliver homemade foods, while others provide meal kits in the form of fresh ingredients and recipe cards delivered to your door so all you need to do is prepare the food, the average meal prep time is about 30 - 45 minutes. So don't let time pressures steal your health when you have other options!

Make The Right Choices

The simpler the ingredients and the fewer ingredients on a label, the healthier the food choice. Eighty percent of the time, you should aim for foods that are fresh and have no added sugars, no trans fats and few, if no, E numbers (the codes for substances used as food additives).

It's only necessary to avoid allergens if your child has a food allergy that has been diagnosed by a professional. It's a myth, for example, that avoiding gluten and wheat and dairy will help you or your child lose weight. Gluten should only be avoided if your child is medically gluten intolerant, for example, if she has coeliac disease. Gluten-free foods are often higher in calories and glycaemic sugars than foods containing gluten, and they're also expensive.

Aim for Variety and Balance

Extremism is never healthy, and babies, toddlers, kids and teens are all growing human beings with very high nutritional requirements. It's important to include as much variety in their diets as possible, and to aim to include foods from all the food groups. Foods should only be avoided for confirmed medical conditions (for example, allergies or metabolic disorders) or for specific religious reasons.

Healthy children should have access to all the food groups, so that when they are older they can make informed choices with regards to their health. Should you as a family feel very strongly about following a diet path (such as vegetarian or vegan) then we recommend consulting with a paediatric dietitian, who will help you plan your child's diet. Vegetarian diets are often high in fats and sugars to compensate for lack of proteins. However, if properly planned, these diets can be executed in a healthy and productive manner.

Get Active! 

For a healthy pregnancy, it's essential to minimize sedentary habits and excessive screen time like using iPads, computers, TVs, and smartphones. Proper nutrition is key to maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding lifestyle diseases. Physical activity helps our bodies use this nutrition effectively and boosts children's psychological well-being.

Active children are less likely to overeat because they're busy with activities. In contrast, kids who spend a lot of time in front of screens often eat more unhealthy snacks high in sugar and fat. Exercise releases endorphins, which can make people more likely to choose healthy food options. However, it's important to remember that being active doesn't mean you can eat poorly. Thinking you can indulge in junk food because you've exercised is not beneficial.

Healthy eating and staying active should be our main focus most of the time. But, it's okay to enjoy treats occasionally. Life is about balance, and it's fine to celebrate with an ice cream on family night, whether your child has participated in a school marathon or swam many laps.

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