Impact of Early Nutrition, Physical Activity and Sleep on the Fetal Programming of Disease in the Pregnancy: A Narrative Review

Nutrients. 2020 Dec 20;12(12):3900. doi: 10.3390/nu12123900.


Early programming is the adaptation process by which nutrition and environmental factors alter development pathways during prenatal growth, inducing changes in postnatal metabolism and diseases. The aim of this narrative review, is evaluating the current knowledge in the scientific literature on the effects of nutrition, environmental factors, physical activity and sleep on development pathways. If in utero adaptations were incorrect, this would cause a mismatch between prenatal programming and adulthood. Adequate caloric intake, protein, mineral, vitamin, and long-chain fatty acids, have been noted for their relevance in the offspring brain functions and behavior. Fetus undernutrition/malnutrition causes a delay in growth and have detrimental effects on the development and subsequent functioning of the organs. Pregnancy is a particularly vulnerable period for the development of food preferences and for modifications in the emotional response. Maternal obesity increases the risk of developing perinatal complications and delivery by cesarean section and has long-term implications in the development of metabolic diseases. Physical exercise during pregnancy contributes to overall improved health post-partum. It is also interesting to highlight the relevance of sleep problems during pregnancy, which influence adequate growth and fetal development. Taking into account these considerations, we conclude that nutrition and metabolic factors during early life play a key role of health promotion and public health nutrition programs worldwide to improve the health of the offspring and the health costs of hospitalization.

Keywords: birth weight; cardiovascular disease; eclampsia; metabolic programming; nutritional programming; obesity; physical activity; pregnancy; sleep.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development*
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Sleep / physiology*