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The Effects of Poor Nutrition on a Fetus

author image Francine Juhasz
Francine Juhasz has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a Qi Gong and yoga teacher, health and nutrition freelance journalist and featured self-help and life-skills speaker. For more than 30 years she has conducted programs, workshops, seminars and private counseling sessions in emotional, mental, marital and sexual health and fitness in universities, elder-care communities and community centers in both the U.S. and Europe.
The Effects of Poor Nutrition on a Fetus
Giving birth to a healthy baby increases with healthy eating during your pregnancy. Photo Credit pregnant girl with carrot image by Pavel Losevsky from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Fetal development depends not only on maternal hormones, genetic codes and environmental factors, but on nutritional supplies within the body of the mother as well. What you eat during your pregnancy has a great impact on the long-term health prospects of your child. Inadequate nutrition, especially early in the pregnancy, may impair fetal brain development and cause abnormalities in endocrine functioning, organ development and the energy metabolism of your child.

Abnormal Brain Development

In 2011, research on the fetuses of poorly-fed baboon mothers by the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research was published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," demonstrating the major role nutrition plays in fetal brain development. When baboons were deprived of nutrients, especially during the first half of pregnancy, researchers found disturbances in the development of the brains of their fetuses at both the cellular and molecular levels. Hundreds of genes were found to be disordered, impacting cell division and cell-to-cell connections. In human studies, pregnant women whose folate levels were low because their diets lacked foods containing this B-complex vitamin, increased the risk of defects in the neural tubes of their newborn babies that become their spines and brains, according to University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. Folates are found in lemons, bananas, strawberries, leafy vegetables, dried beans, peas and fortified cereals.

Increased Risk of Diabetes

The way your child responds to food over a lifetime depends partly on whether or not overfeeding or underfeeding takes place during fetal development. Research by the British physician David Barker in the late 1980s suggested that babies who weighed less than 6 pounds at birth were more likely to suffer later from type 2 diabetes. This is attributed to the differences between the prenatal nutritional environment and the nutrition given to babies after birth. This disparity provokes abnormalities in the endocrine functions and energy metabolism.

Increased Risk of Heart Disease and Hypertension

Unless you consume a balanced healthy diet of proteins, fluids, whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables and polyunsaturated fats and avoid alcohol and caffeine, even prior to conception, you put at risk the cardiovascular health of your baby. Especially in the first trimester of your pregnancy, a healthy diet is crucial because the initial organ development of the fetus takes place. The calories, fluids and protein you eat affect your maternal blood volume and pressure, the development of your placenta, but also the cardiovascular future of your child. If your nutritional support is insufficient, you put your baby at greater risk for heart disease, according to researchers at the University of Nottingham.

Increased Risk of Obesity

If the fetus is exposed to high levels of blood sugar or fat in the body of the mother, this can affect the development of the fat cells of the fetus and the pathways in the fetal brain that regulate appetite, according to the University of South Australia. High-fat and high-sugar foods during pregnancy predispose the baby to becoming obese later in life.

Possible Lowering of IQ

Studies terminated in 2011 at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio on nonhuman primates supported the view that poor nutrition during pregnancy, by altering the development of fetal organs, including the brain, may have lifetime effects, potentially lowering IQ and heightening the risk of behavioral problems.

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