The connection between life in the womb and what happens later in life has been of great interest to mankind throughout history. But scientific evidence of any real connection was scarce until 1989, when a study found that low birth weight was a positive indicator for heart disease later in life. That was just the beginning.
Initial skepticism of the birth weight studies has given way to widespread acceptance, as newer studies confirmed the original. But new studies have also discovered exceptionally strong evidence that a stressful and/or toxic uterine environment directly affects not only the mental and physical health of babies, but can lead to a whole range of mental and physical problems that can crop up later in life.
These discoveries have spawned a whole new field of study, called “fetal origins”, which has convinced respected scientists, writers and environmentalists to call for serious changes in how we view – and care for – those critical nine months in everyone’s life called pregnancy.
Two recent books on the subject are getting a lot of favorable attention, and are definitely recommended reading for anyone considering pregnancy.
Science writer Annie Murphy Paul’s new 2010 book, Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, was prompted by her personal decision to have a baby. The publisher says that Ms. Paul “interviews experts from around the world; discovers how individuals gestated during the Nazi siege of Holland in World War II were still feeling its consequences decades later; how pregnant women who experienced the 9/11 attacks passed their trauma on to their offspring in the womb; how a lab accident led to the discovery of a common household chemical that can harm the developing fetus; how the study of a century-old flu pandemic reveals the high personal and societal costs of poor prenatal experience.”
Another 2009 landmark book also discusses the same theme. More than Genes: What Science Can Tell Us About Toxic Chemicals, Development, and the Risk to Our Children. The author, Professor Dan Agin, a neuroscientist and molecular geneticist at the University of Chicago, lays out a powerful array of convincing evidence. Publisher’s Weekly says Agin’s book describes “a silent pandemic…causing untold damage to babies while they are in the womb. Toxic chemicals in the environment are assaulting developing fetuses, as are substances (such as alcohol and nicotine) ingested by pregnant women and are capable of dramatically altering developmental pathways. According to Agin, the role of the intrauterine environment has largely been ignored by scientists who look to genes and a child’s post-birth environment to explain behavior issues, mental illness and IQ.”
Fetal origins as a science may still be in its infancy, but we should not wait for more studies to “prove” what is already evident — pregnant women must be protected from trauma, stress, illness and known toxins like lead, dioxins, PCBs, radiation and pesticides. And we should regulate the tens of thousands of widely used chemicals that have never been tested for safety.
SOURCE: Simon & Schuster, 2010, http://books.simonandschuster.com/Origins/Annie-Murphy-Paul/9780743296625 Oxford University Press, 2009, http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Medicine/Genetics/?view=usa&ci=9780195381504 New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/opinion/03kristof.html
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