The latest science on staying healthy during pregnancy

New research examines prenatal supplements, how eating patterns affect sleep, physical activity while pregnant and more.

Healthy habits are particularly important during pregnancy. Four new studies being presented at NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE look at how supplements, eating habits and physical activity can affect various aspects of health during pregnancy.

Prenatal supplements might influence the bacterial composition of breast milk.

Breast milk contains a unique mix of bacteria – known as its microbiota – that plays an important role in child health. In a new study, researchers from Purdue University examined whether diet or supplements taken prenatally affected breast milk microbiota in 771 mothers participating in the CHILD Cohort Study. The analysis revealed that supplements, but not dietary patterns, were linked to human milk microbiota composition changes. Mothers who took fish oil or folate supplements during pregnancy had lower microbial diversity than those who did not, while mothers who took vitamin C had higher diversity than those who did not. The researchers say that more analysis is needed to account for other variables that might influence the human milk microbiome.

Rana Chehab will present this research in an on-demand session during NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE from noon on Monday, June 7 through 5:30 p.m. on Friday, June 10 (abstractpresentation details). Image available.

New insights into how maternal obesity might affect children

Although maternal obesity is known to influence the health of offspring, scientists are still working to understand why the effects are not always consistent. Researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center studied 22 mothers with obesity with or without other risk factors for metabolic syndrome, including high blood sugar or high cholesterol. They found that the women with the additional risk factors tended to have higher glucose levels than the women without the risk factors, despite similar levels of weight gain and total fat mass gain during pregnancy. Offspring born to mothers with the additional risk factors weighed more and had more fat mass than offspring born to mothers without the additional risk factors. These results suggest that metabolically unhealthy obesity results in longer exposure to higher levels of glucose and triglycerides, promoting increased fat mass and weight for the offspring at birth. The findings also identify women with obesity and other risk factors as a group who could benefit from prenatal interventions.

Emily W. Flanagan will present this research in an on-demand session during NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE from noon on Monday, June 7 through 5:30 p.m. on Friday, June 10 (abstractpresentation details).

Physical activity during pregnancy linked with epigenetic changes

Studies have shown that maternal physical activity could influence the health of offspring through epigenetic modifications in the placenta, but whether the timing of this activity was important remains unclear. Epigenetic modifications, such as methylation alter levels of gene expression without changing the genetic code. New research from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) found that physical activity during pregnancy was linked with methylation of genes potentially related to multiple pathways, such as carbohydrate metabolism, cellular function, cardiovascular and neurological system development. The study, which included 296 mothers in the NICHD Fetal Growth Studies-Singleton cohort, did not find a significant association between physical activity before pregnancy and methylation. If replicated, the new findings could shed light on the mechanisms underlying changes in how maternal physical activity influences epigenetic changes.

Sifang Kathy Zhao will present this research in an on-demand session during NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE from noon on Monday, June 7 through 5:30 p.m. on Friday, June 10 (abstractpresentation details).

When you eat could affect how well you sleep while pregnant.

There is a well-known relationship between when we eat and the body’s circadian rhythm. New research from UCSI University in Malaysia looks at how this relationship — known as chrono-nutrition — relates to sleep quality and melatonin rhythm during pregnancy. The hormone melatonin helps control our sleep-wake cycle. For the study, the researchers examined meal timing, meal frequency, eating window, breakfast skipping and night eating for 114 women who were pregnant for the first time. They found that women who ate less frequently or consumed lower amounts of fat during dinner than breakfast and lunch were more likely to have poor sleep quality. Eating closer to bedtime was associated with peak melatonin levels that occurred outside of the usual mid-sleep peak. The findings suggest that unfavorable characteristics of chrono-nutrition may alter circadian melatonin rhythm during pregnancy and contribute to poor sleep.

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