So often I hear from my patients that they believe they have been genetically predisposed to obesity. That they were destined to eventually become severely overweight because their (insert immediate family member here) always struggled with his or her weight. I’m here to tell you, so much of what we know about weight gain, BMI and obesity today says that this really isn’t true. Yes, we may be genetically predisposed to certain conditions. But the way we live our lives can drastically alter that course for the better. Recent research published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood indicates that the sooner we address obesity concerns in our children (we’re talking before birth and during the first 12 months of life), the less likely it is they will face the life-threatening consequences in later adulthood.

If You’re Overweight, Lose Weight Before You Get Pregnant – Research has found that children of mothers who were overweight before pregnancy were much more likely to be overweight in childhood, up to four times more likely as a matter of fact, than their peers born of mothers who were at a “normal” weight before conception. If you’re overweight and trying to conceive, losing weight beforehand can set the stage for a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby throughout childhood.

Watch Your Weight During Pregnancy – With some exceptions, if you pack on more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy, your baby will most likely pack on extra weight as well. Many studies that have looked at infant birth weight indicate a strong correlation between babies who were large at birth and obesity later in childhood. This doesn’t mean you should “diet.” Sensible meals and portions along with some moderate exercise that is safe during pregnancy should help reduce your risk.

Watch Your Baby’s Weight – Yes, we often think that the chubbiest babies are the cutest ones. But studies looking at rapid weight gain during the first year of a baby’s life found strong ties to obesity. One of these studies showed that babies in the top 20 percent of monthly weight gain were nearly four times more likely to be overweight or obese at four and a half years old. Remember, crying isn’t always a sign that your baby is hungry. Tiredness and gas are frequent causes of discomfort in infants. Knowing your babies cues can help cut down the risk of overfeeding.

If You Smoke, Quit. Now. – More research now suggests that children of mothers who smoked during pregnancy were nearly 50 percent more likely to be overweight compared to the children of mothers who didn’t smoke while expecting. The potential birth defects, now coupled with the obesity risk, just aren’t worth it. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor immediately. When you want the best for you and your baby but don’t know what to do, there is no shame in speaking to the experts.

Consider Breastfeeding – Over the years, countless studies have proven the positive effects of breastfeeding on weight stability in children. Even when done for just a brief period of time, breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the likelihood of obesity in children compared to those who were never breastfed. Reduce the pressure by trying not to put arbitrary dates on the experience. Research has shown that any amount of time spent breastfeeding, whether it’s one month or 18, is beneficial to both mom and baby.

Don’t Give Solid Foods Too Early – Many sleep-deprived new moms have heard the Wives Tale: Once you introduce solid foods, even rice cereal, your baby will sleep through the night like an angel. Simply put, there is little clinical evidence to prove that this is true. And now, researchers tell us that introducing solid foods before four months of age is associated with a more than six-fold increase in obesity later in childhood. Hold out on solids if you can, but don’t lose hope. Most babies tend to begin sleeping longer stretches at night between the four-six month mark simply because they have learned how.

Pregnancy, childbirth and raising a newborn can be tough. But the above “checklist” can help set you and your baby up for many happy and healthy years to come. The great news? When you put in the hard work up front, you can help ensure that your children never become my patients. It’s all up to you.