The developing baby’s nutrition is a key to how the baby grows and develops, this can be a measure for the risk of disease. Birthweight, placental weight, and how the developing baby’s brain and organs form are affected by different types of nutrients.  Having too much or not enough protein (eggs, beans, meat) and carbohydrate (whole grains, vegetables, fruits) is linked to reduced birth weight and increased blood pressure in babies in multiple studies like fruits and green vegetables, are positively linked with birth size and sugar tolerance. When a pregnant mother eats calcium, a mineral found in dairy and green leafy vegetables, helps a baby regulate a good blood pressure throughout childhood.

On the other hand, malnutrition and its timing determine the impact on baby’s development and risk of adult disease.  One study examined birth and death records of children born to women pregnant during the Dutch famine of 1944.  This helped to show the developmental impact within each trimester of pregnancy. This study found that malnutrition early in development was associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity later in life as an adult; during the second trimester the developing baby had an increased number of lung problems as an adult; during the third trimester was associated with insulin resistance or diabetes as an adult but could be seen as early as an adolescent.

Malnutrition can result from not enough food to eat, or as many Americans experience, too many high-calorie food products that are lacking in nutrients. This is referred to as high-calorie malnutrition, which has become more common with rising rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes in women of childbearing age.  Pregnant women with diabetes expose the developing baby to increased blood sugar before birth, this is problematic for the baby after birth because the they are unable to maintain those high of levels in the “normal” environment leading to an increased risk of glucose (sugar) intolerance and type 2 diabetes in adulthood. Nutritional imbalances and maternal obesity increases the risk of preterm birth.  Infants born prematurely are at higher risk of childhood obesity, childhood and adulthood heart disease, diabetes, and other problems associated with rapid weight gain during infancy and early childhood.

Nutrition during pregnancy plays an important role in both the fuel supply to the developing baby and the placenta.

Boo, H. A., & Harding, J. E. (2006). The developmental origins of adult disease (Barker) hypothesis. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology,46(1), 4-14.

Lane, R. (2014). Fetal programming, epigenetics, and adult onset disease. Clinics in Perinatology, 41(4), 815-831.

Reynolds, R., Osmond, C., Phillips, D., & Godfrey, K. (2010). Maternal BMI, parity, and pregnancy weight gain: Influences on offspring adiposity in young adulthood. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 95(12), 5365-9