Research by the Birth to Twenty Programme, which has since 1990 been tracking about 3000 Soweto mothers-to-be and, subsequently, their children up until now has found that good or bad maternal health during pregnancy can influence the future health of the unborn child. Professor Shane Norris from the Developmental Pathways Research Unit at Wits University was part of the study.
‘Your maternal health before you conceive and health status during pregnancy is very important in determining the delivery outcomes like birth-weight and infant health’, says Professor Norris.
About 14% of the women followed had diabetes during pregnancy and this in turn put their unborn babies at risk of getting diabetes as well. Norris says some of the reasons that increase diabetes in moms are if they are obese during and before pregnancy, which can ultimately lead to a big baby.
He says one of the downfalls is that women often present themselves for ante-natal care when they are in their third trimester of pregnancy, which leaves very little room for any intervention if there is a need.
‘What’s important is that once a woman discovers that they are pregnant, they need to get access to ante-natal care as well as post-natal, so they can attend the sessions for monitoring and proper information disseminated to them. That is absolutely essential – the sooner, the better. Her health status has a very important role in determining the health of her baby’.
He expressed concern that a third of the children followed, mostly women aged 20, are either over-weight or obese.
‘It is concerning that a third have over-nutrition by the time they are young adults. That will increase their risk of metabolic disease and other factors. I think this obesity in young adult females is probably a combination of over-nutrition, but also less physical activity’, says Norris.
Norris pointed out that the first 1000 days of life are absolutely vital. These include the nine months in the mother’s womb and the first two years of life. He says this is where breast-feeding is crucial and urged mothers not to abandon breast-feeding.
‘There is conclusive evidence that suggests that breast-feeding is important, particularly in the first six months of life.
The WHO recommends exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of life and extended breast-feeding for 12 months or longer. There are definite benefits to that. The important thing is how the mom navigates her nutritional decisions from when she starts weaning the baby onto liquids and solids and that’s very important for the baby to continue getting the best nutrition during the weaning period’.
Professor Norris reminded moms-to-be that the nutrition they take during pregnancy is very important for the growth of their unborn kids.
‘Pregnancy is a very important time and the foetus is quite susceptible to nutritional insults, particularly if, for whatever reasons, the nutrition from the mother to her foetus is not optimal. If that happens the foetus will try adjust itself to deal with the less or poor nutrition. Often, that means growth restriction’, says Norris.