Raising awareness for soon-to-be mothers The importance of diet while pregnant

Why is diet during pregnancy so crucial?

In D. Peleg-Raibstein’s, et al (2016), “Enhanced sensitivity to drugs of abuse and palatable foods following maternal overnutrition,” they highlight the idea that a mother’s diet – specifically an unhealthy diet – can influence the probability of her baby developing obesity and a high sensitivity to drugs as an adult. I shared this information with the mothers in my family to see if they knew this or were told this while being pregnant, but most of them said no. They only remember being told to stay away from strong medications, drugs and alcohol. Nevertheless, why was diet not as emphasized? I feel like soon-to-be mothers should be aware of this information as I’m sure they want the best for their children.

Study Findings:

Chow Diet VS High-fat Diet

In Peleg-Raibstein’s study, they worked with pregnant mice and controlled what they ate during their pregnancy. One group was given a high-fat diet (HFD), while the other group was given a chow diet to be able to compare the differences between their offspring. Here is what they found:

  • When the offspring were born, they noticed that the HFD offspring weighed more than the chow offspring.
  • When the offspring were given food options, both offspring preferred high palatable foods, but the HFD offspring tended to eat larger amounts.
  • The HFD offspring drank more sucrose solution and alcohol than the chow offspring.
  • The HFD offspring experienced a stronger drug effect when injected with cocaine and experienced a reinforcement effect, meaning that they were more likely to seek the drug again - more than the chow offspring (Peleg-Raibstein, et al, 2016).
  • The HFD offspring’s tendency to eat more, drink more and react stronger to drugs was due to an abnormality in their reward system.

The basics of our reward system

Normally, the reward system plays a role in mediating our motivation towards obtaining a reward we want/crave. It does this through dopamine, which is the main neurotransmitter involved in the reward system. When dopamine is released, an individual feels an urge/motivation to seek and obtain a reward, which is what both offspring experience when presented with high palatable foods, alcohol and drugs. However, the results indicate that the HFD offspring show a stronger drive to obtain the rewards, such that it leads to compulsive consumption of food and drugs (Peleg-Raibstein, et al, 2016).

The sensitivity of the HFD offspring's reward system

Internally what is seen is that HFD offspring have less than normal dopamine receptors in their striatum, which is a part of the reward system. They also tend to release more dopamine than the chow offspring. Altogether, this increases the sensitivity of their reward system. Therefore, since the reward system is more sensitive, when dopamine is released, the HFD offspring experience a stronger motivation to obtain palatable foods or drugs. These observations show that what the mother eats while pregnant, can influence her offspring to prefer high fat/sugar diets and be more sensitive and likely to consume drugs of abuse. Imagine the impact it would make if more mothers knew this!


Peleg-Raibstein, D., Sarker, G., Litwan, K., Kramer, S.D., Ametamey, S.M., Schibli, R., & Wolfrum, C. (2016). Enhanced sensitivity to drugs of abuse and palatable foods following maternal overnutrition. Transitional Psychiatry, 6(10). Doi:10.1038/tp.2016.176

Created By
Yesenia Bermudez


Created with an image by freshidea - "Pregnancy Diet Health Risk"

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