How does the placenta provide nutrition

What does the unborn child notice?

The mother's weight has a major impact on the child

Take weight, for example: In recent years, many studies have shown that how much the mother weighed before and during pregnancy has a major impact on the child. Children of very overweight women with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30 run the risk of later becoming fat themselves. The same goes for children of mothers with gestational diabetes. Due to the mother's disturbed insulin production, the unborn child is flooded with too much sugar. As a result, the child's pancreas has to produce more insulin to cope with the high blood sugar level. This in turn stimulates the growth of adipose tissue. "A prenatal yo-yo effect," says Stepan.

Baby benefits from healthy eating

Apparently, the mother's diet even influences how productive the offspring will be later on. This was shown by a study by the German Institute for Nutritional Research in Potsdam-Rehbrücke. Researchers fed some of their test mice with high-fat food, the other rodents received low-fat food. The result: The offspring of the high-fat mothers were only half as fit as the others in an endurance test. The underperformance, so the explanation, was probably related to disorders of the fat and sugar metabolism.

It's not just the children of heavy mothers who get fat. Even those who are born too small, for example because they were not optimally cared for via the placenta, are at greater risk of obesity and cardiovascular diseases. A British study found that children with a birth weight of less than 2500 grams are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure later in life. One possible explanation: damage to the kidney caused by the inadequate supply in the womb.

Doctors can counteract risks

The good news: "Some of the fetal programming can be averted," says Stepan. He advises all very overweight mothers to lose weight before they become pregnant. "Slightly overweight, on the other hand, is not a problem," says the researcher. With gestational diabetes, it is important to have good blood sugar levels - then it will not affect the child. Easily born children used to be fed up as quickly as possible. Doctors like Stepan advise against this today: "We now know that this is counterproductive because the body gets used to consuming far too much calories."

Stress and pollutants are harmful to the child

What researchers also know today: Even unborn babies are tiny souls. They save when their mother is not doing well, for example when she experiences something stressful, suffers from too much stress or is mentally ill. "How the mother is doing plays an important role in the child's later stress regulation," says Dr. Margarete Bolten from the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinic at the University of Basel. In other words, if the mother is stressed, the child will later react restlessly and tearfully, cry more often and sleep worse than other children. These children measurably release more stress hormones than others - an effect that lasts for life and can later lead to psychological problems such as depression.

"Alcohol, nicotine and other drugs had a similar effect," explains Margarete Bolten. Studies also show, however, that prenatal experiences can be mitigated later in life. For example, if a mother is sensitive to the needs of her newborn child, then over time it also learns to better control its emotions. Even if a lot is decided in the womb: "The imprint after birth is at least as lasting as during pregnancy," says the expert.