Play and theme-based learning with our children

Friday, July 1, 2011

This Baby's Coming Out One Way or Another!

At 37 weeks “new baby” and I have crossed the last milestone before birth.  But let’s hope NB stays in utero at least a week longer. Hubby is hundreds of miles away for the weekend and the infant car seat is still up in our loft storage. During the throes of launching a new company this week, I decided not to push him to pull the rest of the baby stuff down. Besides, in fundamentally important ways I’m prepared to enter the hospital, perhaps more so than the first time. I have a health care directive, a will & trust, and life insurance (and yes, the hospital bag is packed).  The "been there done that" aspect helps too.

Though 37 weeks is considered full term, fetal origins research suggests practical concerns may not be the only reason it’s best for NB to stay put a bit longer. Earlier birth dates and lower birth weights may be associated with developmental and health complications, even if the newborn is not preemie....

Hold up.  You know, I’m not really feeling it this time. I was going to cite a study saying babes born even a week early may end up needing more help in school down the line, but I don't really believe that. If you look at enough variables, you’re bound to find some kind of association. Truth is, I question how much of fetal origins research (so often about associations based on small samples) is a statistical witch hunt rather than good science.

Focusing on doom-and-gloom perinatal research has a way of supplanting the joys of pregnancy with a macabre dance of dodging mutagenic bullets and skipping over epigenetic land mines.

That said,  I can’t deny how good scientific information can be deeply helpful (if only doctors knew about the dangers of thalidomide before so many pregnant women were given it in good faith).  Is there a balanced, uplifting view of the current research on fetal origins?

Turns out there is a decent, actually excellent, book on the subject - “Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives” by Annie Murphy Paul.

I tweeted to the author saying she wrote the book I wanted to read.  But really, she wrote the book I wanted to *write*!  I envisioned a book unpacking what fetal origins research says about epigenetics (how experiences in the womb change gene expression and us later in life), and a story of empowerment - the things an expectant mom does right. Instead, I only had to read Annie’s book (I dream of writing as well as she. Did I mention she nicely responded to my tweet and now follows me on Twitter? Very cool.).

Annie said in an interview “my immersion in fetal origins research made me less anxious about being pregnant, not more. It made me see pregnancy in a new light: as a scientific frontier, and an opportunity to improve the health and well-being of the next generation. Pregnancy isn't just a nine-month wait for birth, but a crucial period unto itself: a staging ground for the rest of life.”

Admittedly, at times I did feel more anxious while reading her book.  After all, I allowed myself to eat tuna here and there, take some occasional sips of wine, drink black tea. I keep it in strict moderation, but reading her book kicked up guilt.  I mean, alcohol easily crosses the placenta. Would I put alcohol in my baby’s bottle? No! So why would I give him a little while in the womb?  When cans of tuna are tested for mercury, one occasionally turns up with high levels. How would I know if the tuna I ate was low or high in mercury, and what could happen to a developing brain if it got an unfortunate wallop of mercury? Eek, I didn’t exercise either. Exercise just felt horrible and wiped me out, but her book stresses how important exercise is for the developing fetus. I started questioning my logic and choices.

Taking a step back, I see I CAN rest easy, and put away the flogging stick. The latest verdict on alcohol is that "there is no detectable risk associated with light or moderate drinking during pregnancy". The relevant study got lots of attention last year not only for the claims, but also for being a very well executed large study and therefore quite definitive.  A daily cup-o-jo seems to pose no detectable risk either, and fish provide those healthy omega fatty acids we’re so obsessed about, plus may even prevent pre-term birth.  As long as I’m not downing swordfish, I know there’s no good reason to get in a tizzy.

Do I strive to be a good mom, or a perfect mom? Well, I have no idea what perfect would even look like, and I’m pretty sure being a teetotaler isn’t the answer, at least not for me (I'm not much of a drinker normally and so feel no concern about habitual slippery slopes there). Truth is, I trust that I’ll educate myself on the important stuff and make appropriate decisions. I purged our house of BPA-containing plastics a year before the media blasted the risks - one of the benefits of keeping tabs on research directly.

I connect with what Jane Goodall says about being a mom (just finished her memoir “Reason for Hope”). She learned from watching chimps that motherhood can be FUN. I see the same goes for pregnancy. I’ve enjoyed it and take care of myself. A relaxed, fun and healthy pregnancy is all I could hope for, and I’m prepared to love this little being however his unique mix of genes and experiences have shaped him thus far, even if he does decide this weekend is the time to breath air. My husband, though, might be in a bit more trouble.

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