“Thanks, Mom…now I can blame you for all of my problems!”

There’s that saying “you are what you eat” or how about “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” and now there’s “what happens in the womb, doesn’t stay in the womb, instead it shapes everything you become later in life.” Scary concept, huh? Well, I wouldn’t go as far as to blame your mother’s for all of your issues because collectively nature forces upon us a battery of issues (food safety, environmental pollution, safety in disaster situations, etc) that can and will influence a babies development.

Annie Murphy Paul’s new book Origins, released September 28, investigates how outside influences during pregnancy have lasting effects on a baby. In her article, A Womb With A View,  Lisa Belkin at NYTimes asked Paul to write a guest post for Motherlode about how “blame the mother” is a limited idea. Paul presents an “emerging science known as ‘fetal origins’ — the growing body of research demonstrating that many of our characteristics, as children and even as adults, are influenced by the conditions we encountered in the womb.”

Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives by Annie Murphy Paul

The book is filled with facts:

Eating chocolate during pregnancy can lead to a happier, less fearful baby.

Eating lots of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury during pregnancy produces smarter kids, with better social, communication and motor skills.

“Moderate” levels of stress during pregnancy is associated with accelerated brain development at 2 weeks of age and better motor and mental development scores at age 2.

Severe stress, on the other hand, can have lifelong effects. Adults who were in utero during the flu pandemic of 1918, for instance, did not go as far in school or earn as much money as their adults who were in utero just before or just after the pandemic, but were more likely to suffer from disabilities and receive welfare. And people whose mothers were pregnant during the Nazi siege of Holland, the famine during China’s “Great Leap Forward” and the six-day Arab-Israeli War in 1967 are more likely to suffer from schizophrenia.

Could it be? Do I hear epigenetics knocking at the door, or rather on the walls of the womb?!?!

Epigenetic regulation enables organisms to respond rapidly to environmental stress—animal models (of course) offer a strong base that maternal nutritional status during pregnancy can, in fact, induce permanent changes in vivo; to apply this phenomenon to the human population, a wonderful example is the prenatal exposure to the 1944-1945 Dutch famine.

The final months of the Second World War were marked by a period of extreme food shortage in the Western Netherlands. What was once a well-nourished population became plagued with hunger, disease, and mortality. Although short, it was a severe period of maternal malnutrition, which had long-term consequences. Studies examining the Dutch famine birth cohort report that maternal famine exposure during gestation is associated with chronic disease in exhibited in the offspring later on in life (Lumey, L.H. and Van Poppel, F.W.A., 1994; Painter, R.C., Roseboom, T.J. and Bleker, O.P., 2005).

Essentially, “this research is revealing that much of what a pregnant woman encounters in her daily life — the air she breathes, the food and drink she consumes, the emotions she feels, the chemicals she’s exposed to — are shared in some fashion with her fetus.” Which can in turn affect the health of the child in the present and future.


One thought on ““Thanks, Mom…now I can blame you for all of my problems!”

  1. Interesting post, Tory. It seems to me like it could also benefit the baby to ‘encounter’ parts of the environment the mother is living in while still in the womb. After all, it is the same environment the baby will soon be a part of, and have to navigate for itself.


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