When you’re pregnant, things like stress and external conditions can lead to health and psychological problems in your children when they’re adults.
A fascinating new study reported in the New York Times suggests that the conditions a fetus faces in its mother’s womb will have repercussions throughout a person’s life, with problems like obesity, diabetes and mental illness among adults at least partly related to what happened during those nine months of gestation.
For years, it’s been accepted that a child’s birth weight had an effect on whether or not that person would eventually experience heart disease, with smaller children being more susceptible. A similar finding appears to be true here, with researchers learning that stress, hunger, disadvantage, war, toxins in the air and all sorts of other issues and variables happening in the world while a woman is pregnant do, in fact, affect the woman’s child.
One of the studies focused on disadvantaged children born in poor neighborhoods, and found that such children are apt to have lower educational attainment, lower incomes and worse health throughout their lives, meaning poverty can be a vicious cycle.
In her new book, Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, Annie Murphy Paul writes, “Given the odds stacked against poor women and their fetuses, the most effective antipoverty program might be one that starts before birth.”
It’s not just limited to the poverty-stricken, either. One study focused on people whose mothers were pregnant during the five-month influenza pandemic of 1918 and how many of the resulting adults were more likely to fail out of high school, be poor as adults and suffer from heart disease.
Another study found that Swedish children born soon after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 had problems with their cognitive abilities and math skills. Children whose mothers were pregnant during the 1967 Six Day War between Israel and the Arab countries were more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as adults.
So, the moral of the story is, take your prenatal vitamins, eat right and exercise while you’re pregnant, keep the stress to a minimum and be fanatical about your pre-natal care, and you’ll be giving your baby a head start on the rest of its life.