I picked up Time with trepidation. I'm nearly six months pregnant, and I wasn't sure I wanted to know what Annie Murphy Paul had to tell me in her cover story, "How the first nine months shape the rest of your life." I already had a list of rules to follow: don't eat cold cuts, don't drink alcohol, take a prenatal vitamin every day, don't drink too much caffeine, don't eat soft cheese, don't take medicine if you get sick, don't lie flat on your back, stay active but don't overexert, don't gain too much weight, and get plenty of rest. I worried that reading Paul's findings would only compound my sense that I could and should always do more to protect the life of this child within.
But the article surprised me. It didn't mention rules for pregnant women. Rather, it placed women and their unborn children in the context of a larger community. For example, Paul offers evidence that links air quality not only to the health of a fetus but also to the health of that fetus as a growing child and an adult. Evidence suggests that "exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy" can be linked "to a host of adverse birth outcomes, including premature delivery, low birth weight and heart malformations" as well as "damage" to DNA that "has been linked to increased cancer risk."
In other words, when as we all contribute to polluted air now, we also contribute to health problems for the next generation. Similarly, pregnant mothers who endure intense stress (and here we aren't talking about having a bad day but the stress caused by warfare or starvation), "give birth to children with a higher risk of schizophrenia." The article, based on Paul's book on the topic, suggests links between fetal health and heart disease, obesity, diabetes, ...1
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