Women today have more information available to them than ever before in history. Health care, and particularly prenatal care, is more advanced than it was in the past. We know more about the life cycle of sperm, eggs, zygotes, blastocytes, embryos, fetuses, prenates, and neonates than ever. Women can now predict their fertility, plan for pregnancy, delete (abort) a pregnancy, and even override some infertility by methods such as IVF with or without donor sperm or eggs.
Sometimes all this knowledge can lead us to believe we control everything from conception to birth, including the personality makeup of the child. The prenatal tests available have saved lots of lives of both mother and child, and newer tests can likely save even more lives. But sometimes a little knowledge can just make us paranoid.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is a no-no. Heavy alcohol use during pregnancy is known to cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the only cause of mental retardation that is completely preventable. Approximately 6% of alcoholic, or bingeing mothers have children born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. And since effects of alcohol vary widely from person to person, the medical community has just decided that the safest route is no alcohol at all. No one is suggesting that it is okay to go out and get drunk on a regular basis during pregnancy, but does anyone remember Rachel in the TV show, Friends ,spitting out a sip of champagne because she might be pregnant? That's an example of how a little knowledge has turned some women paranoid.
Has anyone read "What to Expect When You Are Expecting"? It is probably one of the most widely read and recommended books about prenatal care. One of the downfalls of reading that book is the guilt factor. Somehow, that book and many other of the same type, imply that if a pregnant woman is not eating whole grains, dark green vegetables, a certain number and type of proteins, and a different type of fruit each meal, that her unborn baby is being caused irreparable harm. One can get the impression from these types of books that occasionally indulging in ice cream, chocolate, cheese puffs, corn chips, potato chips, cheesecake and all sorts of other yummy pregnancy comfort foods will result in the baby's brain or body not growing properly. A sensible, healthy diet full of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy and proteins is a great one for anybody, especially pregnant women, but there is no need to have paroxysms of guilt over scooping ice cream out of the carton with a Frito occasionally.
More research is being done into the prenatal life of a child. This research is showing that the prenate is capable of hearing, sensing, and almost absorbing his mother's emotional state. There is even some evidence that too much prenatal maternal stress during a certain period of brain development will cause that development to go awry or be incomplete. So now there are women who can add to their lists of worries by wondering if they were stressed out by work, had a fight with their partner, were in a car accident, had a medical illness or any other life stressors during their pregnancy; and if so, at what stage of development did the stress occur; and if her fourth grader can't spell, did she interrupt his brain development?
The same theory applies to parents who try to overstimulate their preborn child. Because some research has shown that the unborn child responds to certain types of music and other stimuli, parents are playing Mozart and reading Dr. Seuss to their bellies. It certainly doesn't hurt the bonding process, but there is no reason to feel guilty if you'd rather just fall asleep than read a book to that mound in your middle. There will be thousands of opportunities to read Dr. Seuss to your child.
Because some research shows that it is possible an adult "remembers" his or her birth at some level of awareness, a lot of emphasis is put on how a child is born. Should you have a homebirth? Is that better than a medicated hospital birth? Is the child going to grow up afraid of bright lights and loud noises because he wasn't born into a quiet, dim, womb-like environment? Those are great questions, and it is important that a mother have a birth she feels comfortable with and that provides the greatest safety for her and the baby; but raising a child is composed of thousands and thousands of moments, not just the moment of birth. There is no need to feel guilty, or overwhelmed by this decision. It is only one of many decisions, both right and wrong, you will make in the course of raising your child.
Some evidence has been found that suggests a link between schizophrenia in a teen to a lack of prenatal Vitamin D in the mother. Lack of folic acid is linked to a higher incidence of spinal bifida. Too much vitamin A can cause prenatal malformation. Eating well, and taking a multivitamin are great things to do during pregnancy. Sometimes this information leads to worrying about what vitamin, how much, what is this doing to the baby rather than just focusing on overall healthy living.
So we have women who don't paint their nails during pregnancy; women who don't color their hair while pregnant; pregnant women who won't get into a hot bath or take a hot shower; mothers-to-be who are afraid to eat fish and make sure the only vegetables they eat are organic and pesticide-free, all in an attempt to have a healthy baby with optimal development.
Here's some news to let all you mothers-to-be off the hook: the human race has survived for many thousands of years, and babies have been born during war or famine. Nine months of prenatal care will not ensure the perfect baby, and taking an aspirin or having a drink won't guarantee a problem. And the shocker: you will screw up many, many other times in the course of parenting in the years ahead!