GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- An old adage says 'you are what you eat.' And, if you are an expecting mom, the impact of your diet and your lifestyle, not only affects you but can shape the rest of your baby's life.
"I mean it is the latest big thing in medicine, this whole emphasis on C through K, conception through kindergarten. Because we know if you do the right things at that point you really do have the opportunity during pregnancy to turn on the best genes for your baby," says Mark Gostine, M.D.
Gostine and his partner, Gareth Forde, M.D., Ph.D. created an app called BabyQ to give help give moms the opportunity to best choices for their babies before they are born.
"This all started with the announcement of my daughter back in 2010 that she was giving birth to our first grandchild. I had published stuff on Vitamin D and chronic pain so she knew I was very interested in Vitamin D," said Gostine. "I knew it was very critical in West Michigan with our cloudy weather to make sure pregnant women took Vitamin D also. So I told her 'hey, you need to take 4000 units of Vitamin D'. Her obstetrician disagreed with that. He thought that was way too much. As it turns out, it was spot on."
This got Dr. Gostine to thinking of how to prove his belief to his doctor's daughter, as well as developing a tool to give necessary information to other expecting moms. They created a survey based on findings from more than 4,000 studies and articles.
"Looking at the impact of things like smoking, not eating fruits and vegetables, the lack of exercise, or in return doing positive things. We looked at all these various issues and how they impact pregnancy and you can actually get some very good numbers on what happens," said Gostine. "If they eat three helpings of fruit a day you reduce pre-term delivery over the course of the pregnancy by about 25%.
He says they found that artificial sweeteners and lack of sleep can also have a significant impact on the outcome of a woman's pregnancy.
"The more women drank diet beverages, the greater the pre-term delivery," he said. "One of the things we turned up very rapidly is that young women don't sleep. It is really amazing that young women aren't sleeping and this is really a huge problem when you are pregnant because again it raises your stress hormones and that increases your baby stress hormones and that, through what what is called epigenetics, genetic imprinting or genetic programming, actually turns on bad genes that increases that child's risk of developing diabetes, or obesity life long."
That 22-question survey the doctors created is the foundation for the app they created in November of 2012.
"We gave it the name BabyQ so they can identify with it. It is really their pregnancy IQ. It is how well they are taking care of themselves and their baby while they are pregnant," said Gostine. "We know good behavior leads to better outcomes. The problem people have is how do you get women to comply with these recommendations. Our goal is to give women a simple tool that can measure success that are directly applicable to them."
After a mom takes the survey, it will give her a BabyQ score from zero to 100.
"Zero to 40 is poor. 40-60 is average. 60-80 is good. 80 and above is excellent," said Gostine. The average user has a score of about 63."
Once they get the score, the app will send tailor-made messages to their phone once a day based on issues that are specific the individuals.
Gostine says for example, if a pregnant woman doesn't smoke or drink she will not get messages on ways to quit. He says this is one of the ways this app differs from so many other pregnancy apps, books and websites on the market.
"There is so much information that it is very hard to cut through the clutter," he says. "So BabyQ is not designed to make them feel more anxious. It is designed to help them perhaps, with 3 minutes every week or every 2 weeks, get down to the bare essentials. We feel that is a way of reducing the impact on them of all the other information that is coming that can be a form of anxiety. We talk about their greatest opportunities for improvement. There is nothing here to make them feel bad."
Gostine believes tracking a pregnancy as early as possible is the best shot at giving a baby a bright future.
"There is no question this is happening, because multiple genes can determine, within limits, variations on how this child will grow up - how big they will be, how smart they will be, their tendency for diabetes for asthma for obesity. This is all determined in the womb."
Right now, the free app is available only on Apple products and the web, but it will be available for androids in a couple of weeks.
You can find more on this story through our partner, Grand Rapids Family Magazine in its' Februrary edition.