Poor diet in early pregnancy damages the brain of babies
Poor eating habits or dieting during early pregnancy could damage the intelligence of your baby, new research suggests.
Researchers found that a low calorie diet affected brain development which could lower IQ and also lead to behavioural problems later in life.
The team at the University of Texas found decreased formation of cell-to-cell connections, cell division and amounts of growth factors in the foetuses of mothers fed a reduced diet during the first half of pregnancy.
"This is a critical time window when many of the neurons as well as the supporting cells in the brain are born," said Dr Peter Nathanielsz.
The team compared two groups of baboon mothers, but believe the findings are relevant for humans.
One group ate as much as they wanted during the first half of pregnancy while the other group was fed 30pc less, a level of nutrition similar to what many prospective mothers experience, especially if they have morning sickness.
They found the low calorie diet caused restrictions in the growth of hundreds of neurons and affected hundreds of genes.
It is known that marked nutrient restriction, such as in famine conditions, adversely affects development of the fetal brain.
Its effect is worse in teenage mothers – who are still growing – and older mothers who are less efficient at supplying nutrients to their babies.
Dr Thomas McDonald, the co-author, said: "This study is a further demonstration of the importance of good maternal health and diet.
"It supports the view that poor diets in pregnancy can alter development of fetal organs, in this case the brain, in ways that will have lifetime effects on offspring, potentially lowering IQ and predisposing to behavioural problems."
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.