We know that what we put into our bodies during pregnancy can affect our babies, but here's some news you might find surprising: Recent research indicates that when a mama adopts heart-healthy habits during pregnancy, it sets her baby's heart health on the right foot for years to come. Getting heart-healthy while you're pregnant could mean your child is healthier as a teen!
Researchers from Northwestern University used data from 877 mother-child pairs in six countries to come to this finding, which will be presented at American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia later this month.
The research team used data to score pregnant women based on five of the American Heart Association's metrics used to measure heart health: Weight, avoidance of tobacco products, blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure. The data set looked at the children of these mothers 10 to 14 years later, when the children were scored based on the same factors (except for tobacco use).
Here's what the researchers found: Mothers who fared the best on the assessment had children with similarly high cardiovascular health scores down the road.
"We were surprised at how strong this relationship was," says Amanda M. Perak, M.D., M.S., lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Northwestern University and pediatric cardiologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, according to a release from the American Heart Association. "Our findings suggest that the mother's cardiovascular health during pregnancy affects the in-utero environment in a way that may program the child's cardiovascular health long-term."
The news does make sense—and while the extent of the relationship may have surprised researchers, it stands to reason that moms who model good heart-healthy habits (both during and after pregnancy) would have kids who do the same.
What's important to remember here is that this was an observational study, so while the researchers believe they've found a link between a mama's commitment to heart health during pregnancy and her child's outcomes down the line, this research does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
With that being said, this research just gives us another reason to try hard to maintain healthy habits while pregnant—which is easier said than done, we know! But eating nutritious foods, exercising as often as possible, not smoking and watching things like blood pressure and cholesterol could make a difference in your child's life.
"Pregnancy is a perfect time for women to focus on living a heart-healthy lifestyle," says Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., FAAFP, American Heart Association Chief Medical Officer for Prevention, according to the release. "We're learning more every day about how a mother's lifestyle and food choices while pregnant influence a child's health in utero and after birth."