Helping your daughter maintain a healthy weight may start before she's even born.
Expecting a girl? Your pregnancy health could determine if she's overweight later in childhood, according to a new study published in Diabetes Care. The research shows that daughters of women who developed gestational diabetes were more likely to struggle with obesity in adolescence.
The study evaluated 421 mother-daughter pairs over the course of six years, starting when the girls were between ages six and eight. The results showed that the daughters were 3.5 times more likely to become overweight—and have higher amounts of body fat—if their moms had gestational diabetes. The number rises even higher if the mother had gestational diabetes and was overweight while pregnant.
"While a baby is in the womb, she is exposed to the high blood glucose level of the mother," says Ai Kubo, lead study author and an epidemiologist at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif. "This can change the metabolic patterns of the baby and this may be carried on for the rest of her life."
While the research focused on girls, if you're expecting a boy, the outcome may be similar. "The study we conducted only had female participants, but it's likely that the effect of maternal obesity and gestational diabetes is similar for boys," Kubo says.
Gestational diabetes, which typically develops during the third trimester, has risen in the past few decades to up to nearly 10 percent of pregnant women, according to Kubo. Certain women are predisposed to the condition, and others are at a higher risk, such as certain ethnic groups (Asians in particular), women who are obese prior to pregnancy or those with close family members with diabetes. But there are things you can do to lower your chances of developing it. Here are some tips from Kubo.
Eat a healthy diet
Being overweight ups your chances of developing gestational diabetes, so it's no shocker that sticking to a balanced diet is the first step towards safeguarding your health. You want foods that are high in fiber and low in fat. Think: fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's website MyPlate offers a free tracking program to help you keep a tally of what you're eating. But before you start counting calories, it's important for you to check with your doctor about how much weight gain is optimal for you, Kubo says.
Get regular exercise
You don't need to go into marathon training mode. But lacing up your sneakers and getting in some gym time is critical in keeping your weight gain in the normal range, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. About 30 minutes of moderate exercise, like a fast walk or a few laps in the pool, is a safe number, but again, it's essential to speak with your doctor about the amount and type of exercise that's right for you.