Tag Archives: epigenetics

Active Baby? Active Mom? It May Be Epigenetics Again….

This week’s New York Times ran a story  Does Exercise During Pregnancy Lead to Exercise-Loving Offspring? that echoes what I told a mom last month during a Happiest Baby consult about how her behavior during pregnancy “taught” her son to love movement.  She is an athletic woman, a pediatric physical therapist, and her baby really didn’t calm down fully unless he was jiggled or swung.  He just craved movement.  I am not sure if she really bought my explanation about needing to recreate his womb environment to help him feel calm.  After all, she was just doing her normally active life while pregnant.  After delivery, she went back to work almost immediately.  He was laying at home in the pack n’play, trying to tell everyone (by being fussy at times) that he relaxed best by being more active too!

This article is a little complicated, and they spent a lot of time explaining rodent research.  The coolest part?  Much more of the totality of life “in utero” and immediately after birth might directly influence the DNA of a baby!  The authors did mention that this isn’t an opportunity to lay guilt on mothers, something that is done much too often.  Parents don’t need that.  This little article briefly highlights research that suggests the possibility that the entire experience of the pregnancy is important, not just prenatal vitamins and avoiding raw milk.

I wish, of course, that they had mentioned how important it is to understand the need to support newborns by providing the “4th trimester”, as Dr. Karp calls his amazing baby calming techniques.  It is entirely possible that lots of babies progressively need less movement as they develop other ways to self-calm.  And some may have had their DNA tweaked so that they simply can’t wait to get up and move.  Right from the start.

I told the mom at her consult that she had better prepare for her son joining a travel team in the future.  But knowing her, I think she will be totally OK with that!

Epigenetics and Infant Development

The Wall Street Journal ran a short piece last week on recent research into epigenetics and the effects of childhood poverty. Alison Gopnik was the author of “Poverty’s Vicious Cycle Can Affect Our Genes”. Some scientists believe that the chronic limited security and support many children experience in poverty changes their genetic makeup to bias them for depression and difficulty handling everyday stress later in life. This is different from saying that you didn’t learn effective coping skills to manage stress, this is saying that your biological ability to deal with stress is impaired by your early experience. And that your altered genes get passed onto your children. And their children. The thought that only poverty affects genetic responses is short-sighted. The effect of interpersonal stressors, absent of poverty, has to have strong effects as well.

If you haven’t heard of the field of epigenetics, then expect to hear about it soon. The study of how our genes change with the effects of our environment and our experiences is new, exciting, and a bit frightening. Simply put, there are scientists working on studying how positive nurturing can change our ability to turn on or turn off genes that control important functions like protecting us from toxins. They are also looking at how exposure to environmental toxins and stress in the womb affect the development of disorders such as autism. Epigenetics is huge.

The WSJ piece reported on the research, and did not offer recommendations for living. But it does make me think that my diet, my exposure to chemicals, and my behavior could change more than my appearance or my attitude. It makes me reconsider my choices for the very long run.