Blaming Mothers?

Today Slate Posted an article titled Womb Raider: Do Future Health Problems Begin During Gestation?

There are a few things that amaze me about this article. The first is that it took so long for such research to be done. The second is that such research should need to be done at all. The body that that the baby will have for his or her entire life is built from two single cells that come from the mother and father. Every single thing that a mother eats, drinks, smokes and thinks builds that body on a daily basis. How anyone could think otherwise seems ludicrous to me when there is so much research out there. I just attended a conference where we were shown how the baby reacts (via ultrasound) when mother and father fight, and it should come as no surprise that it stresses the babies out!

The Association for Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health has been looking at the impact of maternal hormones and lifestyle choices on the fetus and newborn since 1983. In Birth As We Know It Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova explains this as being immersed, quite literally, in the mother's 'juices'. She speaks to the limbic imprinting that is taking place during birth and immediately after, as does What Babies Want and Orgasmic Birth. Sarah Buckley explains the physiology of ecstatic birth (and why it is important to both mothers and babies) in Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering. Likewise, Dr. Micheal Odent has been doing research for over 20 years. Dr. Fred Wirth took complicated information on 'fetal brain architecture' and made it understandable in Prenatal Parenting.

Besides all of that, it just makes sense for crying out loud!

So, this article was specifically about whether or not a mother's weight gain in pregnancy had anything to do with later obesity in the child. It did, says the study. However, some questions I would ask (that were not addressed in the abstract, which is all I had access to) might be: Did the women gain weight eating a healthy diet or a diet high in empty calories (like sugar)? Did the mothers breastfeed? What was the child's diet like in the 3 years that they were followed?(Wait! they are thinking of recommending that mothers gain less weight in pregnancy based on the prediction...after only three years of observation...that these kids will be fat adults?!)

Besides the study being poorly done, from what I could see, there is the reaction by the Slate author. He says that this information has a 'blame-the-victim' quality. I guess I see it more as a call to better educate and support mothers. How can we help mothers and babies enjoy their journey more if we don't tell them how current choices impact future outcomes? How can we create programs to support under-served populations if we don't acknowledge that there is a problem that has a solution? He says,

"That impulse is understandable. It's easier—for parents, doctors, educators—to say an obese toddler has a slow metabolism than to teach the family better eating and exercise habits."

I guess what I don't understand how telling a mother she needs to eat better and exercise more in pregnancy is any different than tell her she needs to make sure her kid eats well and exercises. Either way, isn't the mother blamed (by the logic of the Slate author)? She's a bad mother if she lets her get fat by eating junk and playing video games, or she's a bad mother if SHE eats junk food and plays video games. The difference, as I see it, is that IF there MIGHT be a correlation between how them other takes care of herself in pregnancy and the predispositions the baby may have, we can prevent those issues by educating her early. Oh, and in the process nearly eliminate pre-eclampsia and pre-term birth, since those are nutritionally based problems as well.

Of course what our babies are exposed to while they are being built has future implications. Of course how they are birthed and handled immediately after birth matters. How could it not? When are we going to start making the changes that will allow mothers and babies to optimize the gifts nature provided to make the transition to the outside world smoother, instead of denouncing the research as guilt inducing?

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