Your Lifestyle Choices Affect Your Unborn Child's Health

by Julie Snyder

Lifestyle Choices During PregnancyWe've all heard that our choices during pregnancy can affect our growing babies.

Did you know that your lifestyle before, during and after pregnancy impacts your baby's health way beyond birth?

Poor nutrition and exposure to harmful substances increase your risk of pregnancy problems. These same prenatal factors increase your newborn's risk of future diseases, learning disabilities and behavior disorders.

Some days it might feel like you have a lump or basketball in your tummy or that you're hatching the Loch Ness monster. Head on over to the baby development pages to see stunning images of babies the same age as your little one. Those babes might be sucking a thumb already, or showing off a perfectly-formed foot with five tiny toes.

Your Lifestyle Choices Affect Your Baby's Health

Your little girl might have waved at you during an ultrasound. Your little guy may have wriggled excitedly when he heard your voice. In another few months, you'll meet face-to-face. Right now you have an opportunity to give your precious child the best possible start in life. Your changes today can make your baby's tomorrow a lot more pleasant.

Smoking

You may want to quit smoking before you try conceiving. Smoking contributes to several fertility problems as well as being the cause of some pregnancy-related and newborn complications. Babies born to moms who smoke are more apt to:

• Be born with a low birth weight.
• Have more breathing and heart problems.
• Have colic.
• Be a SIDS victim.
• Possibly die within the first year of life.

Studies have found that adults whose moms smoked are more likely to be obese and have triple the chance of developing diabetes.

Alcohol

Some experts say even one drink might damage your baby's health; others say that light drinking during pregnancy is "okay." All agree that chronic alcohol abuse can lead to a fetal alcohol syndrome disorder.

• A mother's drinking habits might increase their child's risk of developing an alcohol addiction as a young adult.
• Babies whose moms binged during pregnancy or drank heavily are more apt to have a developmental problem.

Drugs

When you confirmed your positive pregnancy test, you probably started worrying about everything that went into your body -- food, medicine and otherwise. That's probably a very healthy attitude. Talk with your doctor about your prescriptions and the over-the-counter meds you take.

• Babies whose moms took Paxil® had twice the rate of heart defects.
• Babies whose moms took nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in the first trimester had almost twice the rate of certain heart defects. Common NSAIDs are naproxen, ibuprofen and aspirin.
• Street drugs can cause known developmental problems.

Junk Food or Nutritional Foods

Your smart food choices during pregnancy affect the physical and mental development of your child for years to come.

• Eating lots of foods high in unhealthy fats and sugars can make your baby more likely to have diabetes.
• If you eat a diet of junk food, your child will be born with a taste for it.
• Not gaining enough weight can program your baby's body to store food in a way that leads to obesity later in life.
• Gaining too much can permanently alter your baby's appetite regulation system and set the stage for obesity in childhood and beyond.

Common Toxic Chemicals

Harmful substances can get into your body through your skin or when you breathe, eat or drink. Environmental experts advise that you avoid common household solvents, such as turpentine, hazardous cleaning supplies and indoor and outdoor pesticides.

Your home environment affects your baby before birth and beyond.

• Scientific evidence says the rise of chronic diseases, cancer, autism, asthma, birth defects, and learning disabilities could be coming from the chemicals found around your home.
• Prenatal exposure to household chemical can increase a baby's risk for developing eczema and asthma.

Protect you and your baby by choosing more natural cleaning supplies. Ventilate the house regularly by opening the windows for a few minutes each day.

Lead

An older home might have lead paint or lead in the plumbing. It can affect your baby's brain development. Test your home for lead and work with a professional to have it removed.

Stress

As you learn to deal effectively with stress, your baby benefits. Join a prenatal yoga class, exercise and try out a new breathing technique.

• Recent studies indicate that too much stress during pregnancy puts your baby at risk for childhood emotional, physical and behavioral problems. These risks could include preterm birth, ADHD, obesity and learning disabilities.

Which lifestyle changes have you made to improve your child's health? We'd love to hear about it.

Photo courtesy of istockphoto.