what is nutrition in the womb?

Recent research shows that people who were poorly nourished in the womb are more vulnerable to developing chronic diseases like coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes. This idea comes from studies showing that chronic diseases are more common among people who had low birthweights.*

The fetus has many possible paths of growth before it at the moment of conception. What path it follows depends on the supply of nutrients available from its mother. Poor nutrition at critical periods of development alters the structure and function of the body's organs and systems. If a fetus is undernourished it is forced to protect the growth of vital body parts, like the brain, by skimping on the growth of other body parts, like the kidneys or muscles. People who were poorly nourished in the womb are more vulnerable to chronic disease in adult life because they have fewer robust organs. For example, a person with a weak kidney does not respond well to the hormone insulin and will likely develop diabetes.

It's important to note that a mother's diet before conception is just as important as her diet during pregnancy. A fetus does not depend on what its mother eats each day. That would make it too vulnerable to the mother becoming temporarily short of food or ill. A fetus is also nourished from the mother's body – the protein in her muscle, her fat and the other essential nutrients she stored as a girl, teenager and young woman. Additionally, the human embryo is aware of the available nutrients almost from the moment of conception. As the fertilized egg moves toward the uterus, it reads the nutritional environment of the mother's body and begins to make decisions about its path of growth.

The importance of a balanced and varied diet has been known for many years. It's now clear that the health of future generations requires an investment in good nutrition for women, girls and infants today.

*This association with birthweight is graded: seven pound newborns have less disease in later life than six-pound newborns, while nine-pound newborns have less disease than eight-pound newborns, implying that normal variations in the supply of food from healthy mothers have profound effects on lifelong health, too.