With the advent of 3-D and 4-D, ultrasound, we “see” the behavior of the fetus in much more detail but research of its life in the womb can now predict how it will affect our health as an adult. Fetal origin research is a hot topic of discussion that was discussed in this Sunday’s New York Time, by Harvard University Professor, Dr. Jerome Groopman.
The discussion of maternal lifestyle and its affect on the fetus is nothing new. Most pregnant women are aware that smoking causes small babies, premature births and placental separation, commonly known as placenta abruptions. Drinking alcohol can cause the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that includes mental disabilities. Marijuana affects the fetal heart rate. Cocaine and crack abuse causes placenta abruption, pregnancy induced hypertension and irregular maternal heartbeats that sometime cause death. Untreated sexually transmitted infections can cause premature birth and potential infant blindness and obesity can cause gestational diabetes in addition to a myriad of other health issues.
What IS new is the association between fetal conditions in the womb that and chronic adult diseases. A federal study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) demonstrated that intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), is associated with babies who develop hypertension and heart disease as adults. IUGR is a pregnancy-related condition where the fetus stops growing or grows at a slower pace than expected. Babies with IUGR are usually delivered early because they stop growing inside the womb and are at risk for dying because of a lack of nutrition.
A British physician, Dr. David Barker, published a study in 1989 suggesting that a mother’s poor nutrition can increase the risk of heart disease of the child decades later. Although scientists initially scoffed at his theory, science ultimately proved him to be correct. The Barker Theory, as it has come to be known, is presently used in an attempt to unravel the mystery of chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 Diabetes and obesity, osteoporosis, breast and ovarian cancer.
Can life in the womb affect our lives years later? Probably. Should pregnant women panic if they develop IUGR? Absolutely not. Knowing the future risk factors of a baby empowers its mother to run interference with lifestyle changes and interventions before he or she becomes an adult. Nothing is ever written in stone. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
Do you know how to anticipate and manage the unexpected events that could occur during your pregnancy? You will if you purchase The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy available on Amazon.com or wherever books are sold.