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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).

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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."

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."

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