The health legacy you give your children will affect your grandchildren, too

So you want to have a healthy baby?

Suddenly, hitting the gym, taking dance classes and engaging in sports at this stage of your life may be too late.

A new University of Melbourne study says men and women should start ensuring the health of their children, not when they’ve decided to become a mom and dad, but as early as adolescence. Thinking about parent duties may seem strange to a 14-year-old depending on Mom and Dad for his or her basic needs. But there is evidence to show that young people who take care of their health today are giving their future babies a headstart in life.

George Patton, lead author of the study which gathered data from 200 countries, can’t emphasize this enough. He states that although the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are “crucially important,” taking action at this point is too late.

Starting them young

Health issues like obesity, the use of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illegal drugs should be addressed during a person’s teen years, when these problems usually arise. The study took note of such factors as the condition of a father’s sperm and a mother’s ovum, maternal influences before, during and after conception.

Patton observed that depression during pregnancy influences fetal development and the mother-and-child bond after birth.

“Both depression in pregnancy and after birth are generally a continuation of pre-pregnancy mental health problems that date back to adolescence,” he adds.

Women who want to have a baby and those who become pregnant are not the only ones who need to stay healthy.

Men should watch out, too

And since parenting is also a would-be father’s responsibility, men should take care of their health, too.

They would do well to quit smoking as early as possible since tobacco intake leads to lower sperm count. They may even ruin their sperm. Women smokers have to wait longer to conceive.

Alcohol is another risk factor. A 2017 study led by Dipak Sarkar, Ph.D. a professor at Rutgers University, shows that women who binge drink before pregnancy risk having children with high blood sugar and glucose-related problems. Since high blood sugar can lead to diabetes, these babies may develop the deadly disease when they become adults.

Doctors advise women who want to have children to lose weight because obesity can cause pre-eclampsia, or blood clots that travel from the legs to the lungs. Pre-eclampsia accounts for almost 40 percent of maternal deaths. Obese women are more likely to have stillbirths and premature births. Their chances of giving birth by Caesarian section rises. It becomes harder to breastfeed, and the mother’s immune system can’t resist infection the way it can in other moms. Children of obese tend to wrestle with weight problems as well.

The solution?

For Patton, it lies in preventing health problems as early as adolescents. Researchers saw the need to end child marriages and malnutrition problems in lower-income countries. Issues surrounding delayed first pregnancies through contraception and girls studying in school, should also be addressed.

Patton also recommends “health-promoting” environments in the home, at school, offices and communities. Prevention, as they say, is better than cure. Ensuring young people’s health today enables them to perform their duties better as parents someday. It helps them give birth, and raise healthier children.

This legacy of health is priceless. It is something that will affect not just today’s generation, but those who will come after them.

It’s investing in our future, today.

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