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Does Motherhood Begin Before Pregnancy?
As consumers of media, we love to examine all things related to Mom. Time Magazine’s “Are You Mom Enough?” broke down attachment mothering, a parenting philosophy with little regard for personal space for mom and child. While the psychological affects — positive and negative — are still being determined, we as a public have already moved on to the next motherhood debate: fetal origins.
The June issue of Vogue included a remarkable article about fetal origins titled “Destiny’s Child,” which summarizes some of the recent studies linking the fetus' experience in utero to their mental and physical health after labor and throughout their lives. As the article discusses, the common but outdated metaphor for fetuses is that of a parasite: they take what they need, leeching from Mom nutrients, oxygen and anything else that is essential to the creation of life. The article goes on to discuss the new opinions that indicate this notion is overly simplistic; scientists are still learning just how far-reaching the gestational experience is to determining who we are.
Obesity, diabetes, allergies, asthma, heart disease, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, schizophrenia, aptitude for early childhood development and even the likelihood of cancer have all been linked to the habits of Mom during pregnancy. What is Mom eating? Smoking? Breathing? What level of stress and pollutants make up her world? All of these factors determine the health of the baby, right down to the baby’s DNA.
The Vogue article moves the debate about motherhood from “how?” to “when?” When does Mom have to start taking extra care of herself for baby’s sake? I believe it starts before pregnancy, that Mom’s preconception health is essential to fertility and the baby’s lifelong well-being.
With my patients, I recommend they improve their overall health before getting pregnant. For many, this is an important step toward reclaiming their fertility, which is why we offer services with a full-time nutritionist, acupuncturist, massage therapist and yoga instructor. Habits such as smoking; drinking too much alcohol or caffeine; and eating too much sugar can impact a patient’s ability to get pregnant and to stay pregnant full term. Improving their overall health is not just about eliminating detrimental foods and drugs — it is also about incorporating important nutrients (e.g., folic acid, lean protein, calcium, vitamins B and D), getting moderate exercise and managing stress. This is important for couples trying to get pregnant, and for ensuring healthy pregnancies for Mom and baby.
Almost daily I am impressed with my patients. Even the most simple tweaks to a healthy lifestyle require dedication. And some patients do a complete overhaul to change their metabolic and endocrine function. But moms-to-be know that motherhood requires dedication and altruism.
To learn more about preconception health, please join Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut's nutritionist Carolyn Gundell for a free seminar on Saturday, July 14 at 11:30 a.m. at our Norwalk office (10 Glover Avenue). Click here for complete event details.