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How does what I eat before pregnancy have such a big impact on my baby?

We hear about the first 1000 days alot in the fertility, pregnancy and parenting world. It really does make sense when we think about the rapid amount of growth and development that babies and toddlers go through in their first years of life, but how does our lifestyle and diet before we even conceive impact on our childrens future?

This comes down to epigenetics. When a baby is conceived, they will receive their DNA / gene sequence from their mum and dad. This doesn't change, but what can be altered is how these genes function. Alterations in gene function can increase the risk of that child later developing cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory and neurodegenerative diseases (1). Other lifestyle factors along with diet shown to influence epigenetics include exercise, smoking, stress and sleep, weight, alcohol intake and environmental pollutants (2).

The term "first 1000 days" doesn't traditionally cover the preconception period. However, with the amount of research showing us just how much our nutrition can impact on our children and their future, it definitely should! So how far in advance should we start focusing in on our diet?

Our baby will get their DNA from both mum and dad, and the egg and sperm are what provide this genetic material. A women is born with all of her eggs but the egg follicle will start to develop and the egg will mature 3-6 months prior to conception. Sperm also have a cycle of ~3 months so we therefore recommend optimal nutrition atleast 3 months prior to conception, 6 month being even better! This is why you'll see many supplement recommendations (including folic acid for example) for prior to pregnancy. In saying this though, every person is different and in some cases where a client has coeliac disease, PCOS, or insulin resistance for example, it may take longer to build a solid foundation for optimal sperm and egg health- sometimes up to a year.

Not all epigenetic changes are inherited, but some are inherited across many generations. This could include mental illness, cancer risk, diabetes, and so much more. Which ultimately just really highlights what an incredible opportunity that we have as parents and future parents to influence not just our children but our grandchildren as well. The first 1000 days (or 1500 days in my opinion) from pre-conception is a critical window for us to optimise our nutrition not just for ourselves but for our family and future family as well.

  1. Santos-Reboucas Cb, Pimentel Mm. Implication of abnormal epigenetic patterns for human diseases. Eur J Hum Genet. 2007;15(1):10–17

  2. Probst Av, Dunleavy E, Almouzni G. Epigenetic inheritance during the cell cycle. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2009;10(3):192–206.


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