Health: How to Design the Perfect Baby; No, We're Not Talking about Genetic Engineering. It Is Possible to Shape the Future of Your Unborn Child without Messing around with DNA. There Is Loads of Research into the Best Things You Can Do When Pregnant to Ensure Your Baby Grows Up Healthy, Wealthy and Wise (OK, Maybe Not the Wealthy Bit.)
Byline: Text by Vittoria D'Allessio.
The principle is simple: an embryo is affected by its environment in the womb. Its mother's hormones, nutrients and oxygen all filter through the umbilical cord and contribute to its make-up. But it can be hard to know what's good for and what's harmful to a foetus - other than the obvious no smoking/drinking rule. We thought it was time to shed some light on the grey areas.
The baby blues
There's still a big taboo around antenatal depression but it's very common. New research suggests women are more likely to feel depressed while expecting than after their babies are born. The peak for depression is 32 weeks into pregnancy - close to birth.
Research at Queen Charlotte's Hospital in London shows that stressed pregnant women have babies that are 10% smaller than average - and even a slight variation in birth weight can have an effect on health in later life. The researchers, who published their results in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), believe reduced blood flow in the arteries that feed the uterus may be to blame.
One theory is it's caused by an increase in stress hormones. Some scientists believe this impacts on the structure of the infant brain, which can affect all the baby's vital systems. Research on animals has shown that even a single exposure to a mother's stress hormones can alter the development of the foetal brain.
Reflexology According to the results of a study by the mental health charity MIND, a combination of reflexology and counselling helps reduce tension, anxiety and feelings of fear and despair. But it's not recommended in the first three months because of concerns that it may lead to miscarriage.
Call 0870-567 3320 for The Association of Reflexologists.
Yoga Breathing and meditation exercises are thought to help pregnant women resolve their fears and help a mother `connect' with her child. Yoga also prepares the body for labour and is said to optimise the supply of blood and nutrients to the developing foetus.
Call 01529-306851 for The British Wheel of Yoga.
Work it, baby
New research in the BMJ proves that healthy women who start a moderate exercise programme during early pregnancy improve their chances of giving birth to a healthy baby. The researchers define regular exercise as a weight-bearing activity, like jogging or aerobic dancing, for 30 minutes at least three times a week at or above 65% of aerobic capacity.
Professor James Clapp, one of the US researchers involved in the study, says there's no worry of inducing early labour, exercise actually reduces foetal distress.
Gum's the word
There is compelling evidence that pregnant women who suffer from gum disease in early pregnancy are at risk of going into premature labour and their babies are more likely to have a low birth weight. …