Health Secretary Alan Johnson has said the NHS should care for people "from the womb to the tomb" as he set out plans to give women grants to eat well during pregnancy.
In a key speech on the health service, he outlined how many issues which affect health are actually established before babies are even born.
And he pledged that by April 2009, expectant mothers will get a Health in Pregnancy Grant, which the Department of Health said will be a one-off payment of around £200 to improve nutrition.
Mr Johnson said: "In the short term, lower birth weight can lead to increased risk of cerebral palsy, visual impairment and deafness.
"In the medium term, it can slow down cognitive and physical development. In the long term, it can lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
"If our mantra in the 1940s was 'from the cradle to the grave', then our vision for the 21st century should perhaps be 'from the womb to the tomb'."
He added: "Of course, we won't send around the food police if someone spends part of their grant on other items they may need in pregnancy.
"But, by supplementing valuable practical advice with necessary financial assistance, we are more likely to encourage expectant mothers to make responsible choices in a way that gives the child the best start in life."