Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Of course, many parents focus on the health of their children even before the kids are born. Commentator Annie Murphy Paul wrote a book about the nine months before birth and now encounters prospective parents eager for more information.

ANNIE MURPHY BROWN: By now, I know the look. It's an expression that mingles curiosity, hope and apprehension. It's worn by the women who approach me at book signings and speaking events, even while shopping at the supermarket. They want to know: What should I do when I'm pregnant? Or: Now that I've already had my kids, what did I do wrong?

I understand their interest and their worry. There's an emerging body of research demonstrating that our health and well-being are influenced by our time in the womb. Scientists are studying the fetal origins of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other conditions, and investigating new possibilities for preventing them before birth.

So, eat fish, I tell the women who want to know more, but make sure it's the low-mercury kind. The omega-3 fatty acids in seafood are associated with higher verbal intelligence and better social skills in school-age children. Exercise, I say. Research suggests that fetuses benefit from their mothers' physical activity.

Protect yourself from toxins and pollutants which are linked to birth defects and lowered IQ.

Don't worry too much about stress, I reassure them. Research shows that moderate stress during pregnancy is associated with accelerated infant brain development.

But seek help if you think you might be suffering from depression. The babies of depressed women are more likely to be born early and at low birth weight. They may be more irritable and have more trouble sleeping.

And, I add, eat chocolate. It's associated with a lower risk of the high blood pressure condition known as preeclampsia.

If I had more time - if we weren't standing in the aisle of the supermarket, other shoppers elbowing past - I'd tell them that my immersion in fetal origins research made me less anxious about being pregnant, not more. It made me see pregnancy in a new light: as a scientific frontier and an opportunity to improve the health and well-being of the next generation. Pregnancy isn't just a nine-month wait for birth, but a crucial period unto itself: a staging ground for the rest of life.

Before we part, I tell them one thing more: that being pregnant is a lot like raising a child. All we can do is try our best, but we have to wait to see how it turns out.

INSKEEP: Commentator Annie Murphy Paul is the author of the new book "Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives."

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You can read an excerpt at npr.org.

And that's Your Health for this Monday morning.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: