Fish oil may not benefit new moms or babies, but chocolate and exercise do.

Pregnant women
have tweaked their diets, tried prenatal education tricks, and
attempted whatever else baby books and doctors have recommended—all in
the quest to have happier, healthier, and perhaps even smarter babies.
Mothers-to-be have latched onto fish oil, to cite one example, because
of studies crediting omega-3 fatty acids with brighter babies and a
lower risk of postpartum depression.

research suggests none of the above. A study published today in the
Journal of the American Medical Association of more than 2,000 pregnant
women who took either fish oil or vegetable oil capsules found no
benefit to cognitive or language skills of babies born to fish
oil-taking mothers. (Nor did fish oil seem to alleviate their postpartum

So what can
women do to enhance their babies' prenatal experiences and give them a
leg-up when they enter the world? In her new book Origins: How the Nine
Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, journalist Annie Murphy
Paul explores the burgeoning field of fetal origins, which examines how
the conditions we encounter before birth influence us down the line.
U.S. News spoke with Paul, who shared her insight on which prenatal
behaviors withstand scientific scrutiny—and which are shaky at best.
Edited excerpts:

Does research support gadgets and other devices marketed to boost babies' intelligence?

often try prenatal education systems, which are completely unsupported
by science. There's no indication they will make your baby smarter.
Likewise, playing Mozart through headphones to the pregnant belly won't
increase intelligence, and could even be harmful. A fetus isn't
expecting music to be blasted into the womb, and it may be so loud it
causes damage.

What's the deal with chocolate—can eating it during pregnancy really benefit babies, as you say in your book?

chocolate consumption during pregnancy has been tied to a happier, less
fussy baby. Pregnant women who eat five or more servings of chocolate
each week have a 40 percent lower risk of developing preeclampsia, a
high blood pressure condition [that can endanger the lives of both
mother and child]. If you're dying to treat yourself when pregnant, I
would suggest some chocolate.

You advocate that pregnant women do a "kitchen purge," especially to discard certain plastics. Why?

plastics often contain the chemicals bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.
These chemicals are endocrine disrupters, which means they imitate the
action of chemical messengers in our bodies. Even a small amount can be
damaging because our bodies don't recognize them as foreign, and they
can mess up the fetus's development process. You can tell if your
[plastics contain BPA] by looking at the recycling code on the bottom.
Anything labeled 3, 6, or 7 should go in the trash. And don't use
plastic in the microwave or put it in the dishwasher, since heat can
release BPA.

Speaking of toxins, what's the consensus on alcohol use during pregnancy? **A recent study** suggests light drinking may not harm the fetus, contrary to traditional advice to abstain.

a reason public health experts and doctors always say no amount of
alcohol is safe during pregnancy. That's not just an evasion or a stock
line—it's true. We don't know how much is safe to drink and how much is
problematic. The genetic makeup of the woman and the fetus also plays a
role, because both will differ in how they respond to alcohol. That
fuzziness is why I decided not to drink at all when I was pregnant. If
you're thinking about it, remember that the fetus is most susceptible to
damage from alcohol during the first trimester.

Pregnant women often go to great lengths to avoid stress. Should they be so concerned?

life-threatening stress—like being in a war-zone or experiencing a
terrorist attack—can have a negative impact on the fetus. Some research
shows an association between prenatal stress and cognitive and language
skills. The more severe the stressful events, the poorer the infant's
abilities, and the greater the rates of attention and behavior problems.
That's why we need to have better systems in place for helping pregnant
women during emergencies and disasters. Everyday stress, on the other
hand, can actually be beneficial. It tones the fetus's nervous system
and accelerates brain development.

Origins, you say that exercising while pregnant makes babies healthier
and smarter. Are concerns about overdoing it and harming the fetus

exercise is very beneficial. When a woman works out, her fetus is
getting a workout, too. Research suggests that women who exercise while
expecting have larger babies who grow up to be smarter adults, perhaps
because their brains are bigger. But if you're getting so winded you
can't manage to gasp out a sentence, you're probably working out too
hard. Pregnant women need to make sure they don't become dehydrated—so,
drink a lot of water during and after exercise.

20 percent of pregnant women experience mood or anxiety disturbances,
and at least 10 percent develop full-blown depression, according to your
book. How does this affect the fetus?

women who are depressed are more likely to deliver early and have
babies with a low birth weight. The mother's emotional state can also
influence the fetus's developing brain and nervous system, and
potentially shape the way the baby will experience and manage its own
emotions. Plus, babies born to depressed mothers are more likely to be
irritable and have trouble sleeping. Pregnant women should be screened
for depression, just as we screen for gestational diabetes.

women are inundated with tips: Do this, but avoid that—until next week,
when the advice changes. How can women become more savvy about what's
worthwhile, and what they should approach more skeptically?

should read and learn as much as they can, and talk with their
obstetrician. And remember that the fetus is resilient. We've been
giving birth to babies for the entire history of humanity. If you're
thinking about it and worrying about it, you're probably doing the best
you can.

What's the single most important habit for pregnant women to adopt?

What a woman eats and drinks during pregnancy is so important—not only
for her own health, but for the health of her offspring into infancy,
childhood, and potentially even adulthood. Eat a well-balanced, healthy
diet, with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish. A lot of women
are scared to eat seafood because of warnings about mercury, but it
actually facilitates fetal brain development. Opt for kinds that are low
in mercury: sardines, anchovies, tilapia, salmon, or shell-fish.


Source: MSN Health & Fitness –

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