While the phrase “eating for two” may sound like a pregnancy perk licensing you to down a pint of Ben & Jerry’s whenever the craving strikes, it’s more wisely viewed as a caveat to make sure that you eat a healthy pregnancy diet that provides nourishment for your growing baby.
And once your little one is eating on his own, that vigilance should extend to the foods you offer him. In fact, it could be pivotal to your child-to-be’s future happiness: In addition to negative physical health effects, eating junk food during pregnancy and feeding it to your child during his first five years of life increases the odds that he will have mental and emotional disorders, finds new research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).
See more: What to Eat When Pregnant
The study is the first to show a clear relationship between children’s mental well-being and pregnancy diet/early childhood nutrition. “We’ve known for quite some time that very early life nutrition, including the nutrition received while the child is in utero, is related to physical health outcomes in children – their risk for later heart disease or diabetes, for example,” says lead study author Felice Jacka, Ph.D., associate professor and principal research fellow at Australia’s Deakin University School of Medicine in Geelong. “But this is the first study indicating that diet is also important to mental health outcomes in children.”
After gathering detailed dietary information for over 23,000 women and their children, researchers found that expectant mothers who ate nutritious foods during pregnancy tended to have children with fewer behavioral problems (like tantrums and aggression) compared to moms-to-be who consumed refined cereals, sugary drinks and salty snacks. It also found that children who ate unhealthful diets low in nutrient-rich foods during their first five years of life exhibited the same behavioral problems, as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety.