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The extreme importance of nutrition in pregnancy – the first 1000 days of life!

With more attention given to yourself, the study of nutrition effects before and during pregnancy is an area that must be intensely clarified.
We know that nutrition can affect a baby's health, but the general idea is that it's only important on mother's weight and the risk of obesity for the child. Neither pregnant women, nor health professionals or even the government, recognize the real value of nutrition in this stage of life. It is important to clarify all the interested on the importance of nutrition before, during and after the pregnancy, especially in the first 1000 days of life and that includes the pregnancy and the two first years of the childs’ life.

Barker Theory

Healthy-foodThis concept, that prenatal nutrition has a powerful effect in the future of any individual, was originally demonstrated by David Barker (British doctor and professor of Epidemiology) in the 80's, with the hypothesis of the Metabolic Programming, or “the foetal effect of the adult illness”. Although Ghunter Dorner as early as 1974 had established a relationship between “prenatal nutrition and future illness”, it was Barker that launched this controversial idea, and made it possible that some hundreds of studies were carried on about this matter. According to Barker's theory, the foetus was programmed during de intrauterine development, mainly because of environmental factors, as nutrition, that influenced its metabolism for all life, justifying the origin of some chronic degenerative illnesses of the adult life. All the nutritional imbalances occurring during the uterus life and in premature prenatal life, play an essential role in the development of chronic metabolic illnesses in adult life, such as obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes type II. In other words, what we “eat” in the first 9 months of life inside the uterus, can determine if we will develop hypertension at 30, or diabetes at 40, or if we will have a heart attack at 55. What this theory tells us is that a bad nutrition, and other adverse environmental factors, such as tobacco smoke, alcohol, or exposure to toxic waste, are the big conditioners for a healthy life for each individual.


Now you must be questioning yourself, so if nutrition has all that power, do the genes command anything? Yes, of course! But we know nowadays that despite the genome that defines the anatomophysiological characteristics of the individual, it is the change caused, once again by the environmental factors, that influence more, that can be passed through heredity from parents to their children. Our genome reply in a dynamic way to the effects of the environment (food, stress, etc.), that activate chemistry “switches” which will adjust the way how our genes express themselves. The study of these phenomena is called epigenetics, referring to several biochemical signals which will change the structure and function of the genomics without changing the ADN sequence.

The persistence of these epigenetics changes can result in morphological, metabolic and immunologic changes over several generations, modulating the health, morbidity and mortality by diseases manifested usually in adulthood.

These effects don't affect only the risk of obesity, heart diseases or diabetes, they also exert great influence on neurological functions, immune functions and allergy risks. It is also crucial for the next phase, already outside the womb, the first two years of life, which includes the influence of maternal nutrition on breastfeeding.

This nutritional modulation effect programming, suggests that early nutritional experiences are responsible for forming healthy children, who will be the adults of tomorrow and the future of societies, influencing them both socially and economically.

The first 1000 days of life

babyWhen your child is born you just want to be healthy and will do anything to be happy, right? And you do it very well! Choosing a good school, wanting to have happy experiences, music, games, joyful playing, lots of love and good food are all factors that will contribute decisively to a promising future. These first 1000 days of life, which include pregnancy, are critical in preventing certain health problems, in the construction and development of the nervous and immune system and even to influence the way how your child will eat as an adult. Even during pregnancy, maternal nutrition can influence the smell and the taste of the baby, through the amniotic fluid. And stress during pregnancy can cause a baby with a lower IQ.

The following 720 days become more important in the development of cognitive functions, where the baby will determine their intellectual potential, motor, etc. The environment exerts an essential stimulus in maturation of the child's brain in this period, and not only the nutritional environment, as we have seen so far, but the level of physical and social experiences. The greater the diversity of the stimuli the child receives, the greater will be the number of connections between neurons, which means a higher intellectual level. This does not mean you should teach your child to read at age 3, but you should offer him the possibility of playing, experimenting with different materials, let the child become dirty, play with other children, play in parks, have books around, experience music, etc. I'm sure that you will give your best. And with the food, are you prepared to provide the best nutrition, to ensure that your child will be a healthy adult, intelligent, diligent and socially happy?

It is not the first time I see very young children to eat fast food, treats, too much fat, to be allowed to neglect the vegetables and fruits, replacing them with biscuits and “special” yoghurts filled with sugars...”it is just today” (do you recognize this expression?)! But to experiment this food in such tender ages, can severely hinder your child's health and their future food tastes. When you choose the best nutrition for your child you give him a good education, just like when you teach the difference between good and evil or pass your values and principles. It is an act of love. Therefore, the best way to do this is to know nutrition, the nutrients and food, so you can choose the best for yourself and your family.

In the next few posts we will address the nutritional needs of pregnancy, speaking of nutrients that should be given greater attention and ways to develop healthy menus to ensure excellent nutrition at this stage of life. Stay tuned.

P.S. It is not just the woman who should be concerned with these issues, since the father also gives a huge positive contribution, before pregnancy, if he eats healthy. Commonly it will go to the children epigenetic changes that run the effects of environmental factors that are subject at the time of conception. Then there is the issue of food education, which is no longer only the mother's responsibility. So be aware and do your best!

See you soon.



- Barker, D. J. Fall, C. H. Fetal and infant origins of cardiovascular disease. Archives of Disease in childhood1993, 68: 797-799.

- Castro, Rita de Cássia Borges. O que é epigenética e qual sua relação com a nutrição? 25/08/2011 -

- Rêgo, Carla. Da responsabilidade profissional à responsabilidade social ou o que o pediatra deve conhecer sobre obesidade e programação metabólica. – CCA Hospital CufPorto. Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade do Porto. CINTESIS. 0873-9781/11/42-6/XCVIII. Acta Pediátrica Portuguesa. Sociedade Portuguesa de Pediatria.

- Devincenzi, M. U., Ribeiro, L. C., Modesto, S. P., Campos, K. A., Sigulem, D. M. COMPACTA NUTRIÇÃO – Nutrição nos dois primeiros anos de vida. São Paulo: Editora de Projetos Médicos EPM, 2004.

- I. Darnton-Hill. C. Nishida. W.P.T. James. A life course approach to diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. -

Insert date: 2014-05-21 Last update: 2014-05-22

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Essential nutrients
Authors > Contributor writers > Cláudia Maranhoto