Pregnancy Diet Matters: How What You Eat Impacts Your Child’s Neurodevelopment

Young Pregnant Woman

The research showed that 2-year-old children whose mothers had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes exhibited poorer language skills compared to children whose mothers had not been diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

A new study conducted at the University of Turku in Finland has revealed that maternal gestational diabetes mellitus may have a negative impact on the neurodevelopment of 2-year-old children. Conversely, the study found that a mother’s healthy and balanced diet supports the neurodevelopment of the child.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Turku and Turku University Hospital in Finland has emphasized the crucial role that a mother’s health and lifestyle play in regulating the neurodevelopment of her child. The study specifically investigated the impact of maternal gestational diabetes, obesity, and diet during pregnancy on the neurodevelopment of 2-year-old children.

The research project examined the development of children’s cognitive, language, and motor skills. Maternal adiposity was determined by air displacement plethysmography and gestational diabetes with an oral glucose tolerance test. Dietary intake during pregnancy was assessed with diet quality index and fish consumption questionnaires.

“On average, child neurodevelopment in our data was in the normal range. Our research results showed that 2-year-old children whose mothers had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes had poorer language skills than children whose mothers had not been diagnosed with gestational diabetes,” says Doctoral Researcher Lotta Saros from the Institute of Biomedicine at the University of Turku.

In addition, the study discovered that a higher maternal body fat percentage was associated with weaker cognitive, language, and motor skills in children.

“Our observation is unique, as previous studies have not examined the association between maternal body composition and children’s neurodevelopment,” notes Saros.

Gestational diabetes and obesity, high body fat mass in particular, have unfavorable effects on the mother’s metabolism and increase inflammation in the body. In fact, these are the likely mechanisms through which the detrimental factors impact the child’s neurodevelopment.

Maternal diet during pregnancy can impact a child’s neurodevelopment

The study also revealed that better dietary quality of the mother’s diet was associated with better language development of the child. A similar finding was also discovered between the mother’s fish consumption and the child’s neurodevelopment.

The results indicate the same conclusion that a good-quality diet contains unsaturated fatty acids that are found, for example, in fish. Soft, unsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, promote the neurodevelopment of children.

“A healthy, comprehensive diet during pregnancy can be particularly beneficial for the neurodevelopment of the children whose mothers belong to the risk group for gestational diabetes due to overweight or obesity,” says Professor Kirsi Laitinen who leads the Early Nutrition and Health research group of the University of Turku that implemented the study.

Reference: “Maternal obesity, gestational diabetes mellitus, and diet in association with neurodevelopment of 2-year-old children” by Lotta Saros, Annika Lind, Sirkku Setänen, Kristiina Tertti, Ella Koivuniemi, Annarilla Ahtola, Leena Haataja, Nitin Shivappa, James R. Hébert, Tero Vahlberg and Kirsi Laitinen, 3 January 2023, Pediatric Research.
DOI: 10.1038/s41390-022-02455-4

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