Pregnancy Dos & Don’ts:truths and myths on how your habits affect the developing fetus

 

Pregnancy can be a time full of questions and concerns. In today’s modern world, there is an excess of information about the do’s and don’ts of pregnancy that can be conflicting and confusing. What really will affect the development and health of your baby? What are just myths perpetuated by other mothers, misleading websites and pop culture?

 

Take this quiz to see how much you know about your child’s development and what sorts of environmental factors can affect the developing fetus. Then, scroll down to see the answers with explanations.

1) Reading books to the fetus will make him/her learn information from the text.

2) It is okay to have an occasional glass of wine during pregnancy.

3) Fetuses pay attention to sounds in the environment.

4) Having an active fetus does not mean you will have an active child.

5) Smoking during pregnancy increases your infant’s risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (better known as SIDS)

6) Your emotions can affect the development of the fetus

Answers: (T = true, F = false)

1) F      2) F      3) T   4) F   5) T   6) T

 

Explanations:

1) Reading books to the fetus will make him/her learn information from the text.

The fetus will not glean factual information from the text you are reading. Recall that it will take some time before the fetus comprehends and produces speech. However, it will develop a sense of the sounds of the language you are using. In fact, the fetus’s heart rate decelerates briefly when you start speaking, which is a sign of interest (Fifer & Moon, 1995). And just because the fetus can’t understand the meaning of words yet does not mean you shouldn’t read to it! In one study, pregnant women read The Cat in the Hat twice a day to their stomachs. After delivery, the newborns chose, via sucking their pacifier in a manner that caused the machine to play patterns from The Cat in the Hat (versus other patterns on tape), to listen to The Cat in the Hat, meaning they showed preference for similar speech patterns (DeCaspar & Spence, 1986).

2) It is okay to have an occasional glass of wine during pregnancy.

Alcohol during pregnancy is a big NO. Even if it’s just a glass of merlot to wind down after a long day, it could potentially harm the developing fetus because little is known about what a “safe” level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy could be. This is because at pretty much every given point during pregnancy, the infant is experiencing some form of development, be it physical or visceral. The developing child experiences a variety of “sensitive” or “critical” periods during which specific organs or limbs are undergoing changes. Between the 3rd and 8th week of pregnancy, nearly every major organ undergoes some form of development, though many continue developing throughout the pregnancy. It is important to note that during this most sensitive period (the embryonic stage), most mothers do not know yet that they are pregnant. Therefore, if you are considering having children, or suspect you may be pregnant, cease alcohol consumption and confirm the pregnancy. Depending on the infant’s susceptibility to the effects of alcohol, the dosage of alcohol consumed, and the time period in the infant’s development during which it is consumed, a variety of outcomes may result. The best case scenario is that the infant is unaffected. Otherwise, he/she may possess fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (Sokol et al., 2003) or exhibit fetal alcohol effects (Mattson et al., 1998), known as FASD and FAE, respectively. FASD is very serious, and can result in attention issues, facial deformities, mental retardation, among other symptoms. FAE is “milder,” in that only some FASD symptoms are exhibited and may be less severe.

3) Fetuses pay attention to sounds in the environment.

Aside from human voices and the voice of their mother, fetuses also pay attention to sounds in the environment. Evidence of this comes from what is known as habituation, which is where after repeated exposure to a given stimulus (a sound, in this case), the fetus recognizes, and therefore decreases response to the stimulus because it is no longer novel. Fetuses display habituation as early as 32 weeks (Sandman, et al., 1997). They can even habituate to a pairing of syllable. For example, in a French study, they were played a recording of the syllables “babi.” Their heart-rate initially decelerated (a sign of interest), and then as they habituated to the sound, their heart-rate returned to baseline. Then, when the syllables were reversed, and “biba” was played in the recording, the fetus’s heart-rate again decelerated, indicating that it recognized the sound as novel (Lecanuet et al., 1995).

4) Having an active fetus does not mean you will have an active child.

You should first feel your baby move around 5 or 6 weeks. For the next month, fetal movement will be fairly constant. Then, your fetus should begin to establish Rest-Activity cycles (periods of activity alternating with periods of rest). At times it may feel like your baby wakes up and is active just when you are preparing for bed. This is totally normal, as your fetus develops circadian rhythms different from your own (Arduini, Rizzo, & Romanini, 1995). While these patterns are consistent for all fetuses, the degree of activity of each fetus varies. Over time you should be able to tell if you have an active or sedentary fetus (Eaton & Saudino, 1992). There is continuity prenatal-to-postnatal in these individual differences. More active fetuses are usually active infants (DiPietro, Costigan, Shupe, Pressman, & Johnson, 1998).

5) Smoking during pregnancy increases your infant’s risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Student Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden death of an infant less than one year old. It is the leading cause of death among infants less than one year old (CDC). The direct causes of SIDS are unknown, but there are steps an expecting mother can take to reduce her infants risks for SIDS. Both prenatally and after birth, the primary thing you can do is not smoke. While pregnant, avoid being around others who smoke and limit the infant’s exposure to smoking after birth. This is because exposure to smoking increases the infant’s risk for SIDS, though the exact mechanism is unknown. Babies with mothers who smoke are 3.5 times more likely to die from SIDS than infants who are not exposed to smoking. There are other steps new parents can take to reduce the risk of SIDS after their child is born. Babies should be placed on their backs to sleep to ensure their airflow is unobstructed throughout the night; the supine positioning allows more effective oxygen intake. Infants should sleep on a firm mattress with no pillow because soft bedding can trap air around the babies face, making it difficult for them to breathe. Additionally, babies should not be wrapped in blankets because overheating infants is also linked to SIDS.

6) Your emotions can affect the development of the fetus

No, your fetus will not cry with you or smile because you are happy. However, your overall emotional state during your pregnancy can affect the development of your child. Stress and depression can lead to negative developments in your child. Mothers who reported high levels of distress during their pregnancy had children with higher incidences of behavioral problems later in life, including hyperactivity and inattention in boys and conduct problems in girls. Additionally, many children of mothers who experience high distress during pregnancy have emotional problems later on in development (O’Connor, Heron, Golding, Beveridge & Glover, 2002). If you find yourself stressed during pregnancy, find ways to relax and unwind. If you suffer from depression, seek professional treatment to not only help yourself, but your developing fetus as well.
Written by: Vibhu Krishna & Lucy Sleigh

References:

DeCasper, Anthony. “Essay | In Utero Experience Influences Infant’s Preference for Maternal Voice.” Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.bookrags.com/essay-2005/4/3/213259/5558/>.

Fifer, WP, and CM Moon. “The Role of Mother’s Voice in the Organization of Brain Function in the Newborn.” Acta Paediatrica 83.S397 (1994): 86-93. Print.

Siegler, Robert S., Judy S. DeLoache, and Nancy Eisenberg. How Children Develop. 3rd ed. New York: Worth, 2006. Print.

“Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 07 Mar. 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <http://www.cdc.gov/sids/>.

 

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