A poor diet can lead to numerous health problems, especially during pregnancy. Research shows that a diet high in sugar and fat, consisting of burgers, fries and soft drinks, can have a negative impact on a woman’s breast milk and the health of her baby even before conception.
Eating Fast Food Before Pregnancy Poses Risks for Both Mother and Child
A study of laboratory mice has found that even relatively short-term consumption of a fast-food diet has an impact on women’s health, reducing their ability to produce nutrient-rich breast milk after giving birth. This can affect the well-being of the newborn and increase the risk of both mother and child developing potentially fatal conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes later in life. Even mothers who appear to be at a healthy weight may suffer from hidden problems such as fatty liver disease (a chronic liver disease) because their diet is heavy on processed foods, which are typically high in these fats and sugars. This can lead to advanced scarring (cirrhosis) and liver failure.
Scientists from the Sferruzzi-Perri laboratory at the Center for Trophoblast Research at the University of Cambridge and the Department of Women’s and Newborn Health Promotion at the University of Chile in Santiago were involved in the new findings. They were published in the journal Acta Physiologica. According to the researchers, women who eat diets that tend to be high in sugar and fat are often unaware of the impact this could have. Although higher levels of fat mass often do not affect the ability to conceive, they could have negative consequences for the baby’s growth before birth and for its health after delivery.
It is already known that a “Western” diet high in fat and sugar contributes to a pandemic of increased body mass index (BMI) and obesity not only in developed countries but also in developing countries that are in the process of urbanization, such as e.g. Chile. As a result, just over half of all women (52.7%) in many populations around the world are overweight or obese at the time of conception, leading to problems in both achieving and maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
Obesity has been observed in mice before, but most studies focus on the effects of chronic, long-term diets high in fat and sugar. In the more recent study, a group of mice were fed a diet of processed, high-fat pellets with sweetened condensed milk just three weeks before pregnancy, during the three-week pregnancy itself, and after birth. This diet is designed to mimic the nutritional content of a fast food burger, french fries, and a sugary soft drink. The aim was to determine the effects on fertility, fetal growth and neonatal outcomes.
Poorer Quality of Breast Milk Can Lead to Health Problems in the Offspring
The researchers found that even a short-term diet high in fat and sugar affected mouse pup survival in the early postnatal period, with loss increasing during the time the mother was feeding her offspring. Milk proteins are extremely important for newborn development, but the quality was found to be poor in mouse mothers who consumed a diet high in fat and sugar. Even though the females were not particularly large, and their pregnancy rates appeared normal, they had more fatty tissue in their bodies both during and at the beginning of pregnancy.
They ended up with fatty liver disease, which is really dangerous for the mother, and altered placenta formation occurred. The weight of the fetus itself was not affected. They seemed lighter, but that wasn’t significant. However, it was obvious that the fetal diet was altered during pregnancy. When the researchers examined how the mother might support the baby after pregnancy, they found that the development of her mammary glands and her milk protein composition had changed. This could also be the explanation for the greater health problems of the offspring.
When an overweight woman is pregnant, doctors are often particularly concerned about the risk of developing diabetes and abnormal growth of the baby. But expectant mothers who look healthy regardless of their food intake could be missing subtle but potentially dangerous changes in pregnancy. The problem is that a high-fat diet just before pregnancy, which may not noticeably change a woman’s body weight, can still have an impact on the health of the mother, the unborn child, and the mother’s ability to support the newborn later. That is why it is so important that women are informed about a healthy, balanced diet before trying to become pregnant, as well as during and after pregnancy. This is also crucial for whether the mother produces high-quality milk.
Because quick, processed foods are often cheaper, factors such as poverty could pose barriers to adopting a healthy and active lifestyle. It can be expensive to buy healthy foods. Often the easiest and most cost-effective option is to eat processed foods, which tend to be high in sugar. As the cost of living increases, families who are already disadvantaged are more likely to consume nutritionally inferior products because they have fewer financial resources at their disposal. This can impact the health of both mother and child, leading to a lifelong risk of developing diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.