What is Fetal Programming?


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.

Pregnancy Pathway, Pregnancy – Behavior: Avoiding Risks


Sometimes it seems like pregnancy is a time of restrictions. Avoiding risks can be one thing that makes it seem that way. But, bear with us here in an interesting trip through danger and finding you find ways of enhancing your pregnancy!

Risk Factor #1:

Lack of prenatal care. More than anything else, be sure you have care. Having someone monitor your health and that of your baby during pregnancy is vital to a good outcome.

Risk Factor #2:

Not exercising. Sedentary behavior increases the risk for metabolic, cardiovascular and immune disorders.

I know, I know, you don’t have time to exercise. Well, pay now or pay later, as they say. Make time to go to a class (make sure it includes 20 -30 minutes of aerobics) a couple times a week. A class will also provide social support, another factor that enhances your pregnancy. Take a walk at lunch time. Practice relaxation techniques.

Risk Factor #3:

Breathing dangerous fumes. Yes, this includes smoking and second-hand smoke. But, it also means avoiding environments where there is a lot smog (near highways), living with mold or dust, and fancy cleansers that may have dangerous chemicals in them. Stick with vinegar, ammonia or bleach as cleansers.

Smog can endanger your fetus!

Smog can endanger your fetus!

We are learning that combustion exhaust from cars and trucks can negatively affect birth weight and prematurity. If you live or work near a highway or in an area where smog is prevalent, what are your options? Can you transfer or move? Can you wear a mask? Talk to your care provider and figure out the best protection for you and your fetus.

Risk Factor #4:

Poor Nutrition. Yup, just go back one entry and find out how food affects pregnancy. If you don’t eat enough protein and drink enough water, you don’t make sufficient blood volume to nourish your placenta and thus your fetus.

Read labels!

Read labels!

Eat whole foods and learn to read labels when you buy processed foods. What is a “processed” food? Anything with more than one ingredient!

Some processing (ex: homemade soup) takes little nutrition away, but some processing (ex: potato chips) takes everything good away and replaces it with unsafe substances. Look for low sodium, low sugar, high vitamin and mineral content items with no saturated or trans fats.

Read the ingredients; if you don’t know what the words mean, maybe you want to pass it up.

Risk Factor #5:

Alcohol and Drugs. Common items can be as dangerous as street drugs, which

There is plenty of time in life for a glass of wine...later.

There is plenty of time in life for a glass of wine...later.

No. No. No. Only meds from your prenatal care provider are okay.

No. No. No. Only meds from your prenatal care provider are okay.

Caffeine? Only one cup & only if you must.

Caffeine? Only one cup & only if you must.

can severely compromise you baby’s future. If you have a drug or alcohol habit, get help.

Risk Factor #6:

Genetics. You can have genetic predispositions for many pregnancy issues. However, that does not necessarily mean you will develop a given disorder. For example, nutrition and exercise greatly reduce the risk and severity of metabolic issues. Some genetic issues are unavoidable however, and your care provider will alert you to these, if they are relevant.

Risk Factor #7:

Social issues – isolation, lack of support, abuse, poverty. All of these factors can have negative effects.

If isolation is a simple matter of needing to meet other moms-to-be, join an exercise program. That way, you get both support and exercise; just be sure it includes aerobics, along with centering, relaxation and appropriate strength.

If your situation is more dire, seek the help of a care provider or social worker at your local hospital or clinic. Safety and support are critical for you at this time. Get the help you need. There are people who care. And, if you know of someone who needs help, help them.

If you have other risk factors to offer, please post them in the comments. Thanks!

What’s next?  BIRTH!!

Pregnancy Pathway, Pregnancy


Time for an entre: Pregnancy!!

Up for discussion…

Health Influences in Pregnancy

Health Influences in Pregnancy

Let’s start at the beginning…in the first trimester you feel sick and tired, right? Three things:

1) your immune system is pro-inflammatory (causing nausea and fatigue), 2) your body is protecting your fetus from some toxins (if you eat something not so great for the fetus, you throw up), and 3) you have extreme swings in blood sugar levels so that after you eat, the level soars and you feel sick.

Number 3 can be fixed with behavior, but you may have to wait out 1 & 2. To fix number 3 eat very small meals frequently (6 or 8 times a day) and be sure to eat protein, that is, eggs, meat, fish, fowl, cheese, nuts, rice & beans, soy, etc. with each small meal. This stabilizes blood sugar and prevents dramatic elevations that can cause nausea.

In most healthy pregnancies, the immune system will rebound in the second trimester so that you feel good; it is protecting you again!  But, those wicked toxins and infections are still out there in the environment, so the message is beware bad air (smog, smoking, industrial air pollution), highly processed foods (lunchmeats, things with names you can’t pronounce), any drugs or meds not prescribed or okayed by your ob or midwife, alcohol, and dangerous bacteria, viruses and other microbes!

Exercise wisely…no sky-diving or scuba diving! Eat healthy food and get enough sleep. De-stress through relaxation and meditative techniques. Don’t take risks with your health, but do stay active and start to prepare for birth and bringing home a baby (or two?).

Third trimester & the immune system goes on the fritz again – can’t keep this baby in here forever; must expel! You may feel sick and tired again. BUT, keep your prenatal care appointments, keep moving, get good nutrition, rest and stay focused. Before you know it the real work begins, not to mention the 18 years of sleep deprivation.

Getting from here…

Being Fully Present in Your Pregnancy...

Being Fully Present in Your Pregnancy...

…to here..

Being Fully Present as Mom

Being Fully Present as Mom.

…is a journey like no other. The adaptations of your body to the demands of pregnancy are amazing. If you pay attention, you will learn more about the meaning of existence from this than from anything else.


Sign up for this Blog (top toolbar, click blog info and subscribe)!! Learn from our more than 30 years of helping make healthy moms & healthy babies.

Visit our website:  www.dancingthrupregnancy.com

Pregnancy Pathway, Conception – Review & Small Rant!


REVIEW: Evidence is clear – pre-pregnancy maternal health status, including physical fitness, healthy nutrition and an uncompromised immune system affect the health and well-being of both mother and offspring, in both short and long term.

This is the message summary from our first two areas of discussion:  Preconditions and Conception – the green and sand colored sections on the chart below.


COMING ATTRACTIONS: We are about to move on to the blue section – Pregnancy!!  So, bookmark this Blog for future reference!

Also, you can subscribe to this Blog by clicking on Blog Info in the upper right corner and then clicking on Subscribe in the drop down menu.

But, yes, you guessed it, first we have a small rant!

SMALL RANT: When we note that fitness, nutrition and a healthy immune system play significant roles in the outcome of pregnancy and the future health of mother and child, we are appealing to young people of childbearing age to be careful about your bodies. The alliance of egg and sperm shapes the world. With 6.5 Billion egg/sperm combinations (yes, people) presently living on earth, our resources are stretched. With time, either we get more picky about doing this, or the 3rd rock from the sun (remember that show?) is cooked.

Humorous incursion: In case you need further enlightenment on this whole area, there is a great website that will help you out. Be prepared to be amused and amazed!

The Truth about Eggs and Sperm

Hopefully, this gets you in the right mood and keeps you smiling. After all, once you actually are pregnant, we have more serious matters to discuss.

Pregnancy Pathway, Conception – Health Status


Today: How the mother’s health status at the time of conception affects the pregnancy.

For complete graphic, see Feb. 5 or 23 post.

The Impact of Health Status at the time of conception.

The Impact of Health Status at the time of conception.

When a woman becomes pregnant, her health can be a major factor how her pregnancy will proceed. If she has been exposed to a virulent infection, it may have an impact on how well the implantation goes. If she has metabolic syndrome, she is at risk for complications such as gestational diabetes.

On the other hand, if she has taken care of herself, is physically fit and well nourished, is well rested and has not been exposed to illnesses that induce dramatic changes in her immune system, she has done her best to create a situation in which her body is best prepared for the rigors of pregnancy.

There are still genetic and environmental factors that can affect the course of the pregnancy, but behavior is the one factor that women have control over. At Dancing Thru Pregnancy we are fond of the notion that if you know a certain behavior is the best for a situation, it is smart to chose that behavior; if you do not, you are sabotaging yourself.

So, if pregnancy is in your headlights, eat right, exercise, and be cautious about exposure to illness and infection. Wash your hands, use one of the hand cleansers, practice safe sex (okay, so if you are trying to get pg, this may change, but in the meantime!).

We welcome comments on what you are doing to be healthy for pregnancy!

Curl-up! Strong abs are part of physical fitness!

Curl-up! Strong abs are part of physical fitness!

Small Rant, Review, References & Coming Attractions


Small Rant – Women, their pregnancies, births and mothering styles are all unique. The big issue in childbearing these days is control. Fear of losing control, who controls birth (do YOU give birth or are you delivered by others?), having the self confidence and skills to know when to let go of control yet be okay. It’s interesting to hear what happened to someone else, but (here’s the rant part) this can often be frightening because – let’s face it – catastrophe gets our attention. Whatever you’ve heard, you still have to do it yourself. Pregnancy, birth and parenting create a steep learning curve.

Review – Our job at the DTP Blog is to help with the learning curve through evidence-based information. We are moving along a pathway. Here it is, in a small version (see Feb. 5 for full version):

So far, we have dealt with Preconditions (the Green items). If you understand what you can and cannot control along your Pregnancy Pathway it can help prevent you from spinning your wheels or wasting money. Some things are worth doing (self care, good food, exercise) and some are not (self-indulgence, toxins, stress). Preconditions to pregnancy – genetics, environment and behavior – are worth paying attention to if you are of childbearing age and think or know you are moving along this pathway.

References – We have used hundreds so far and will use many, many more, but only some of you will find the science something you want to pursue, so please go to our DTP website (use the Blogroll) for more information on research in this field. Here are some texts that explain much more: “Women and Exercise” in Varney’s Midwifery (editions 3, 4 & 5), Jones & Bartlett Pub.; Women’s Fitness Program Development by Ann Cowlin, Human Kinetics Pub.; and Immunology of Pregnancy by Gil Mor, Springer Pub.

Coming Attractions – next, we talk about conception. Yes, this is an exciting part, though not perhaps why you think (!). It turns out conception is fraught with many twists and turns.

Humorous incursion:
Q: Why does it take a million sperm to fertilize just one egg?
A: Because none of them will stop and ask directions.
[Sorry, couldn’t resist.]

After that we will likely rant and review again, have more humorous incursions, proceed on to the pregnancy and birth experiences, then discuss health outcomes for mom and baby in the short and long term.

Why do we spend our time on this? From a biological perspective, humans can do nothing more important than create healthy offspring. Wars may be fought, the banks fail or cars become a thing of the past; we might even become post-racial; but, having babies doesn’t really change. It remains a primal experience. It’s nestled in a high tech world, but its still primal. Women have always had guides; we take this role seriously.

Stay tuned!!

Pregnancy Pathway, Preconditions – Environment


Please refer to February 5 entry for entire graphic. Today: Environmental Preconditions to Pregnancy.
Our environment is with us all the time. Even if we think we are preventing or controlling environmental factors that impinge on our bodies and minds, they are lurking here, there, everywhere, and they are myriad. Our environmental influences are everything from the air we breathe to the persons who raise or teach us, from the food available to our housing, from our job stresses to cultural forces or even the weather in our part of the world. These things help shape who we are physically and mentally, over the long term and from moment to moment.

08-4Are you prepared to become a parent? One way to tell is to look at your environment…is it healthy? Are you living in a situation that you can count on? What about clean air, safe paint or safe food? What about water? What about people around you? Are they supportive? Does your environment help you stay healthy?

What about your body? Factors in the environment that affect fertility (or lack of it) may determine if  you can even become pregnant, or when you can become pregnant. Think about this:  Women who work together often cycle together. What if you work alone, say at home…does this affect your ovulation? One factor identified in the lowering age of menstruation in girls is the increasing number of hormones in various meats. Another factor is the presence of non-biologically related older males in the household. If these things are known, imagine what is not known about situations, chemicals or people in our environment that affect our reproduction!

There is not an absolute separation of genetics, environment and behavior. If we are genetically predisposed to certain disorders, for example, we may or may not develop them, depending on environment. Some persons are inclined toward autoimmune disorders, but they may do well or poorly depending on the air pollution where they live. Some individuals may develop immune disorders. And, this situation may adversely impact inflammatory responses during implantation.

People who strive to take care of themselves even if they live in horrible conditions can use their behavior to improve their chances for success in everything from a healthy pregnancy to a meaningful existence. Even if genetics and the environment are against the process, behavior can sometimes overcome the odds. Granted, it’s not likely you can produce 6’5″ offspring (see last post on genetics!) if the egg person is 5’2″ and the sperm person is 5’7″, but much is possible beyond that.

So, what do you do about your environment if you are thinking about becoming pregnant? Take stock. Ask yourself what, if anything, might have to change. Ask what you can or can’t accept for your offspring, if you know there are environmental factors that aren’t perfect. Fetuses are amazing creatures; the placentas that supply and defend them are ruthless and will protect a fetus at all costs. But, you can give your body and potential baby a good chance to do well by providing a six month span of a healthy environment leading up to conception. And, healthy for mind as well as body.

When your baby comes into the world, a door opens in your heart to a room you didn’t even know was there. In that room is a certain kind of love and caring that cannot be described. It is love for this being who is and isn’t you. As a mother, you have been her/his environment for nine months or however long you have shared. The womb is a small, protected, organized environment, one that reflects your larger environment. So, take stock now, ahead of time.

Pregnancy Pathway, Preconditions


Please refer to February 5 entry for complete graphic. Today we turn to the question of preconditions to pregnancy and how they might affect maternal and offspring health.



Pre-existing factors that can influence health outcomes include genetic factors (family risk for heart disease, for example), environmental factors (living in a building with mold, for example), and behavior (eating well and exercising, for example). In each category, factors will contribute to the health of the mother and eventually to offspring health.

It is important to understand what major genetic factors may affect your offspring and whether the environment or behavior can help offset negative factors. For example, there may be a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy in your family, but vigorous aerobic exercise in the six months prior to pregnancy provides a high degree of protection from this risk. Preeclampsia puts both mother and offspring at risk for complications.

Other genetic factors that may be of consequence include autoimmune disorders, allergies, and metabolic syndromes. For example, so-called “thrifty genes” may predispose you to a high weight gain in pregnancy. But, you may be able to offset health problems associated with this by staying active and eating well.

Pregnancy Pathway, introduction


Please refer to the Pregnancy Pathway chart in the February 5, 2009 entry. During pregnancy, there are some factors within our control and some that are not. The Pregnancy Pathway, designed by Dancing Thru Pregnancy® founder and Yale University Movement Specialist Ann Cowlin, and Certified Nurse Midwife Robyn Brancato, is intended to describe the flow of factors that influence pregnancy and its outcome.

In the weeks to come, we will focus on individual areas. Our goal is to help women understand how they can optimize their pregnancy by focusing on what they can control that results in beneficial outcomes.

Ann and Robyn are also founding members of the Women’s Health Fitness Institute, a non-profit organization whose mission is research and public education outreach in women’s health fitness. Our comments for this blog are based on scientific evidence and 30 years of tracking individual pregnancy outcomes from women throughout the world. Some entries will include references to the relevant studies.

By helping women understand what endeavors are effective in producing benefits for mothers and their offspring, we hope to aid moms-to-be and those considering pregnancy to be fully present and active in the empowering process of becoming a mother.