There are five areas that give every parent important opportunities to promote the health and well being of their baby during pregnancy.
The forming of a new baby entirely depends on the materials given to your baby by you the Mother. All those materials go seamlessly from Mother to baby, without any effort required. A dramatic example is the development of a baby’s skeleton. Our bones are not only our support, but a vital reservoir of the element calcium. All that calcium in a newborn’s bones, comes from one place, Mother’s bones. In fact, when a baby is born, about 10% of the Mother’s skeleton goes to their baby. This is not a diet managed event. If the Mother has a skeleton, the baby takes what it needs to create its own.
However, eating healthy foods still contributes to the health of your pregnancy and your baby.
The first reason is that eating well helps the Mother be healthy, which in turn helps your baby since you will feel better, you will be around longer, and you will have more energy,
The second reason has to do with toxins. Sadly, a major aspect to healthy eating today is the need to avoid exposing oneself and children to real hazards, toxins, in our food. Two key examples highlight this issue, mercury and pesticides.
Mercury is a very powerful neurotoxin, it wreaks havoc on developing brains. The major source of mercury in our diet is fish. To a degree that is hard for me to comprehend, every fish in our vast oceans now has mercury in it. Several fish have so much mercury that pregnant women and children should not eat any ever: Swordfish, mackerel, orange roughey, tilefish, shark, ahi tuna.
White tuna has so much mercury in it that pregnant women and children should eat no more than 6 ounces a week.
And, all other fish also have mercury in them, so pregnant women and children should eat no more than 6 ounces a day. See https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/walletcard.pdf
A particular group of insecticides, the organophosphates, are now proven to cause harm to your baby-to-be’s brain development. Any professional or home use of insecticides in your home or lawn should be sure to not use any insecticide that is an organo-phosphate.
What do neurotoxins do if a developing baby is exposed? They cause very serious abnormalities of function, including autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and even learning disorders. These dysfunctions of how our mind work are spiking in number, eating healthy foods, and avoiding the exposure to these neurotoxins could make your baby much healthier, and their mind function better.
SO eat healthy, avoid mercury in fish, and organophosphate pesticides on your lawn and in your home.
It may be surprising to consider how one’s emotions during pregnancy might impact the emotions of our baby, but this turns out to be powerfully true.
As we begin to look at the power of emotions, a most important fact needs to be kept up front at all times. Babies are like us, they have great, powerful, emotional lives. These lives cannot be upset or derailed by anyone else’s normal emotional life, even by their parents’. This is an incredibly important point, and it often goes unrecognized and unspoken. After birth, as a child shares their life with their parents, it is the tapestry made up of thousands, perhaps millions, of interactions, that define the relationship that guides their emotional development. A bad day, a bad mood, a conflict now and then has no or little impact, it is the general trend of those thousands and thousands of interactions that define the impact of our emotions on the emotional life of our children. So, no reason to be worried that we walk on eggshells, that our babies and children are at any risk from a normal life together with us.
Having said that, we also know that there is one common emotional condition that if present in a Mother can have a strong impact on their baby-to-be, and child. That is depression. Depression is not rare, about 1 in 4 people will have it. It is so common one could make the case that it reflects some underlying structural realities of the human brain. That is, along with all the wonders of our incredible brain, comes the fact it gets depressed. The problem is that untreated depression can really have an impact on the developing emotional realities of the child. This impact starts before birth, and clearly continues afterwards.
The point here is that for the one in four of us who struggle with depression, it is very important to know that is happening in your life as you proceed with a pregnancy, treating it can make a big difference in the health of your baby.
Exercise is one of the great gifts of being alive. One of the big differences between plants and animals is that nearly all animals must move to eat, and nearly all plants stay in one place and make their own food. That means moving around is part and parcel of who we are. An enduring mystery of exercise is the ability of regular moving around to improve the function of nearly every organ in the body. The heart, the muscles, the liver, the kidneys, the bone marrow, the cells that make insulin, and even the brain, all work better if the person exercises. It is nothing short of remarkable.
The benefits of exercise on the brain impact on the issue of depression, as exercise elevates mood and increases mental energy and vigor.
All these benefits of boosting the health of our bodies and minds translates into direct benefits to our babies during their pregnancies.
So find an activity you like, and do it, and enjoy it, your child to be will benefit.
We have mentioned how eating healthy and safe, exercises, responding to depression all help promote the development and function of your baby-to-be’s mind, so it makes sense to be sure to mention how improving your cognitive activities can help the mind of your baby-to-be. We would mention two examples, reading and music.
The impact of reading, during pregnancy, is a wonder. We know that if you read a particular children’s book to a baby during pregnancy, they will later prefer that book to others, they hear what you are reading and absorb its impact to some degree, during pregnancy. We also know that babies absorb the native tongue of their parents’ language during pregnancy, reading celebrates this development, and so promotes brain and mind function.
Music offers brain excitement to every human. We know from the fossil record that ancestors us, the Homo sapiens, had carved workable flutes from bones, over 1 million years ago! Again, we came around about 150,000 years ago.
These flutes have holes spaced in the bone that allow a modern flute player to play our music well on them. This all means that music certainly predated language, it predated humanity. If you think about it, there is a lot of music loved all over the world. I may not be able to understand Mozart at the dinner table when he talks to me, but his music directly talks to me, very deepy, with no translation. Music from every continent moves people in every other continent. Recent research has uncovered that music activates the brain across all its centers, in ways not seen by any other activity beyond eating and mating. We also know that simply experiencing music improves brain function, and that the ability to love music starts very, very early, again before birth. There is no evidence that this or that type of music is superior in this regard, just that music itself is a very powerful aid to developing the mind, even during pregnancy.
So read and listen to music with your baby-to-be.
Choosing a Pediatrician
Finally, as pediatricians, we of course think it’s a great idea to choose a good pediatrician for your family while pregnant. After all, every baby born eventually sees a doctor, why not pick one you are likely to respect, trust, and enjoy working with, especially since it’s a working relationship that typically goes on for 20 years or more.
Here are some quick tips to keep in mind when choosing a pediatrician:
- Expertise. Why waste time seeing someone you are not confident is at the top of their profession? No one disputes this notion, but it is very hard to know who is really expert. The street banners from US News and World Report, and the top doctor awards tend to be fairly worthless since they cannot really measure if this or that doctor really reads the medical literature critically and always, whether they really have mastered the art of sorting out what is happening when complex events occur in your child’s life, and whether they know which therapeutic interventions really will work best in those circumstances. We find the best way to figure this out is by two methods: by word of mouth, do you know people whose children had a difficult experience, and who did they find really was expert? and, by asking the candidate pediatrician- ask them, what makes them expert, what do they do, what examples can they share to illustrate they have achieved this level of skill.
- Care. You are going to work with this doctor on behalf of your child for maybe 20 years or more. Do you like them? Do you think they will like you? Do they care?
- Access. If you need your doctor, can you see her or him the same day? Can you talk to them easily? If you call or come to the office, how likely will it be that you see your doctor?
- Conflicts of Interest. Does the pediatric office accept any samples, gifts, anything, from drug companies. If they do, you may be hearing what the drug company wants you to hear, not the direct evidence from science.
We highly recommend you interview candidates for your pediatrician and make sure you know the answers to some of these questions before you decide.