Over the centuries, most cultures have believed - and then dismissed the belief - that what happens to you in the nine months before you are born can affect everything that you become in life.
Now modern scientists are reviving this ancient idea, writes Annie Murphy Paul in her new book "Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives," which is being released tomorrow.
The book is filled with such facts as:
It’s not as if no one had wondered whether outside influences during pregnancy could have lasting effects on a baby. After all, look at all those couples playing Mozart for their unborn children. But only recently, Paul argues, has “the nine-month-long process of shaping and molding that goes on in the womb” been seen as “a crucial process of preparation for the specific world the baby will enter.”
- 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.
There is a danger to this “pregnancy determines everything” lens, of course. It could too easily become one more source of guilt for pregnant women, as if there weren’t enough of those already.
Paul agrees it is a worry. She agreed to write a guest post today for Motherlode about how “blame the mother” would be a shortsighted and off-the-mark use for all this emerging data. Instead, she says, most of the things that can go wrong in pregnancy are “collective in nature (matters of food safety, environmental pollution, safety in disaster situations, and so on) and require collective solutions — not more responsibility and blame piled on individual pregnant women for situations they can’t possibly rectify on their own.”