Aha, you say after reading the title, jokes on you! I don’t even have kids.
You could be screwing up your kids, even if they’re nothing yet but a gleam in your eye. Features in the journals Nature and Science this month discuss recent research on how the choices and lifestyles of would-be mothers (and fathers) can predispose their future children to all sorts of fun stuff, like Autism and obesity (also, see earlier blog posts here and here).
The article in Science reviews the literature, while the one in Nature is a commentary piece about the potential harms to women of irresponsible discussion of said literature.
The mommy blame game is familiar to anyone who reads news. Like ever. Look at the stuff I found just this month on how being fat means you might be killing your baby, or how you can pass on the mere risk of diabetes, or how exposure to lead can make your baby grow up fat.
As pointed out in those earlier blog posts, pregnant women and mothers are inundated with articles reporting on research claiming to show how they’re to blame for everything that could possibly go wrong with their child. And who even knows how many websites are out there with “advice” for pregnant (or wanna-be pregnant) ladies? (like this one! That’s right, take your prenatal meds before you’re pregnant—or else!) Pregnancy is a minefield of rules and regulations for women…which can lead to stress…which can mess up your baby!!
Sure, parents do plenty of things that absolutely do harm their children, some of which should never, ever happen (see: getting drunk while pregnant and beating your child), but the blame game becomes especially hurtful when mothers, or in some cases even fathers, are blamed for things they have no real control over.
Case in point: oviductal fluid. The fluid in a woman’s oviduct that surrounds the egg as it begins its journey to the uterus is affected by genetics, nutrition and the position of the heavenly orbs…okay, not the last one. But you get the point. And the mixture in that fluid can actually change the way your child’s DNA works. There’s no way to know how “good” your oviduct fluid is and there’s really nothing you can do about it anyway.
What else can affect your unborn child (or grandchild, for that matter)? What you ate the week you conceived, whether you have defects in folate metabolism, the quality of the father’s sperm and seminal fluid, and apparently maybe nanoparticles (what?). And we’ve all heard that stress, obesity, sleep, exercise, medications, exposure to random toxins, drinking out of the wrong water bottles, and everything else in, on, or around your body can be totally bad for the baby.
So what can you do to be 100% sure that your baby will be absolutely perfect in every way?
That’s right. You could do everything perfectly, and still have a child with birth defects through no fault of your own. The only thing you can do is follow your doctor’s guidelines, don’t drink too much, quit smoking, and don’t run any marathons in your third trimester.
But if you really want to make a difference, please, please stop blaming mothers. As pointed out in the Nature article, it helps no one to point fingers and blame mothers for not knowing the results of all preliminary animal-model research out there on epigenetic inheritance. This is especially important for journalists, as they should realize the potential for harm in headlines like “Morning sickness may mean healthier, intelligent baby” (what if I don’t have morning sickness!!) or “Exposure to perchlorate…during pregnancy may lower babies’ IQs” (what the %*@! is perchlorate?).
It also doesn’t help anyone for you to intrude on a pregnant woman’s day by telling her how naughty she’s being. See a pregnant lady having a sip of wine? A bit of sushi? Guess what? It’s none of your business!