Laying nutritional foundations

By Kath Megaw, clinical dietitian and founder of Nutripaeds.

Recently attending an international breastfeeding conference in France, I was once again awed by nature’s amazing first food for babies – breast milk. As much as we know about breast milk, there is an equal amount we don’t know and will still discover in years to come.

“Balance is key and it is important that the pregnant mother maintains normal blood sugar levels and gets enough calories.”

Over the decades, a huge amount of funding and research has gone into middle-aged lifestyle illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc. What if we had to put that same funding value into research and improvement in our babies’ nutrition – breast milk (and formulas feeds for those that can’t), starting solids and moving beyond? Could we elevate and possibly prevent lifestyle adult-onset diseases? Could we perhaps drastically reduce childhood and adolescent obesity? The answer is a resounding yes! We could reduce the incidence of childhood obesity and teenage diabetes and adult-onset cardiac disease – and the list goes on.

A child’s first 1 000 days are critical

By the age of two years, a baby’s brain has reached 80% of its adult size. The quality of experiences during the first 1 000 days of life establishes either a strong or fragile foundation for everything that follows. Everyone wants to do the best for their child to maximise their happiness and success in life. Imagine if you had the power to influence their good health, their school performance, their physical stamina and even their musical ability before they even learn to read? Hard to believe? All of this is within your grasp. We know that the right nutrition in the first 1 000 days of your child’s life can positively impact on every aspect of their lives, now and forever.

Pregnancy Your diet during pregnancy programmes your baby’s health forever.
Breastfeeding Reduces your child’s chances of being obese.
Weaning Introducing a healthy, varied diet will improve eating habits for life.
Toddler Nutrition affects your toddler’s brain development forever.

Let’s start with pregnancy

Radio, television, diet books and magazines have given a lot of attention to the no- or low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets. It is safe for women to eat lower carb during pregnancy, as long as they are still eating certain foods for proper nutrition. Remember, a foetus requires both glucose and ketones to grow, so a balance is key and it is important that the pregnant mother maintains normal blood sugar levels and gets enough calories.

Precautions

Although ketosis is natural and safe if done effectively, big changes happen in a woman’s body and extra precautions must be taken during this cycle of life. Here are some things to keep in mind for those who are pregnant, whether in ketosis or not:

  • Don’t aim for weight loss. We know the low carb diet is effective for weight loss, but for most pregnant women this is not the time to pursue it. No matter what way of eating is being followed, getting enough calories and proper nutrition is most important.
  • Eat whole foods. Speaking of nutrition, it’s especially vital when you’re growing a baby. That being said, there are some foods with carbohydrates that are important for pregnant women to include in their diets such as vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes, and sometimes dairy.
  • Avoid refined grains, added sugars, and processed foods. The quality of carbohydrates is important to ensure the diet is nutrient-dense and both mom and baby are getting the good stuff they need to thrive.
  • Don’t do intermittent fasting. It may have a variety of benefits for the average person, it’s not appropriate during pregnancy when it’s most important to listen to your own hunger cues and ensure mother and baby are getting enough nutrients for growth.

I find it ironic that if you tell your doctor that you plan to eat low carb during pregnancy, they’ll say it is unsafe, but if you say you plan to eat a diet based on fresh vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds and a little fruit, they will tell you to stay the course! Don’t say keto. It makes them scared. Rather say you’re eliminating sugar and processed, starchy foods. No doctor is going to give you a daily sugar requirement.