Fetal Programming

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What is fetal pro­gram­ming? Every per­son liv­ing on earth was first exposed to a uter­ine envi­ron­ment that helped deter­mine their life­time health and devel­op­ment. The term for this phe­nom­e­non is fetal pro­gram­ming. It is a hot top­ic and deserves atten­tion.

Accept­ing the impor­tance of fetal pro­gram­ming places respon­si­bil­i­ty on the moth­er-to-be to do all she can to insure her body pro­vides nutri­ents and oxy­gen to her grow­ing infant while avoid­ing pos­si­ble risks and tox­ins. At the same time, genet­ic and envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors con­tribute great­ly to the poten­tial for some dis­or­ders and prob­lems that arise. Thus, we must be care­ful in assign­ing guide­lines for accept­able behav­ior or blame for poor out­comes to preg­nant women.

On the one hand, we can all see the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of some­thing like fetal alco­hol syndrome…clearly the result of mater­nal behav­ior. Is a preg­nant woman whose baby has been dam­aged in this way guilty of abuse?

But, what if a moth­er is obese, eats poor­ly and ends up with an infant with a dis­turbed metab­o­lism. Is this abuse? What if the moth­er has an infec­tion that results in cere­bral pal­sy? Or what if she lives near a high­way and invol­un­tar­i­ly inhales fumes that neg­a­tive­ly affect the pla­cen­ta?

How do you get a healthy baby? Of course, there are no guar­an­tees. There remain many unknown fac­tors that can affect the course and out­come of a preg­nan­cy. Some fac­tors we are aware of, such as avoid­ing cer­tain fumes or chem­i­cals.  There are some behav­iors we know can max­i­mize the poten­tial for a good out­come, such as eat­ing ade­quate pro­tein, aer­o­bic con­di­tion­ing and strength train­ing. [Note for new readers…lots of these fac­tors have been cov­ered in our pre­vi­ous posts.]

But, what about all the things we don’t know about?

If these goats eat the wrong grass, will they go into labor?

Here is a cau­tion­ary tale:  There is a species of goat that, if they eat a cer­tain type of skunk grass on day 14 (and only day 14) of preg­nan­cy, will not go into labor. Why? Plant tox­ins in this grass inter­fere with the devel­op­ment of a small por­tion of fetal brain, the par­aven­tric­u­lar nucle­us. This nucle­us is involved in the sig­nal­ing cycle of labor. With­out it, the moth­er will not go into labor!

What are the take-home mes­sages here?

  • Prob­a­bly no one is ever a per­fect fetus…too many pos­si­ble threats.
  • There are some threats we can avoid…being lazy, over-eat­ing, smok­ing.
  • There are some threats we can­not avoid, so we do the best we can.

Do the best you can by your baby…aerobic fit­ness, good nour­ish­ment, sleep, good hygiene and de-stress­ing your life.