During the crucial "window of opportunity" before birth and during infancy, environmental cues help "program" a person's DNA, says Alexander Jones of Great Ormond Street Hospital in London and the University College of London Institute for Child Health. This happens through a delicate interplay of genes and the environment called epigenetics, which can determine how a baby reacts for the rest of its life, Jones says.Through epigenetics, chemical groups attach to DNA. Although they don't change the order of the genes, the chemical groups can switch those genes on or off, Jones says.Many things, such as chemical contaminants, can cause epigenetic changes. So babies exposed in the womb to synthetic hormones may begin responding abnormally to the natural hormones later made by their own bodies, says Hugh Taylor of Yale University School of Medicine".
"Babies and children also can develop abnormal reactions to stress, says Jack Shonkoff of Harvard University, co-author of a June paper on early influences in health in The Journal of the American Medical Association.In the short term, reacting to typical, everyday difficulties can help people develop a healthy response to stress.But persistent, "toxic" stress — such as neglect or extreme poverty — may program a child's nervous system to be on perpetual high alert. Over time, this can damage the immune response and lead to chronic ailments, such as heart disease and depression, the study says.
Aging well starts in womb, as mom's choices affect whole life - USATODAY.com
Wonderful to see the scientific literature on prenatal programming and epigenetics making into the mainstream arena. People who are thinking about becoming parents will find this information critical to their decision making. I wrote about preconceptual and pregnancy work in the book "Birth Territory and Midwifery Guardianship". For anyone who wants to learn more, they may find the book very useful.
Preconceptual counselling with a midwife is a big step in the right direction to managing the complexities of modern life and becoming a parent. Every parent wants the best for their children. This information helps them do take responsibility, seek out support and information before they get pregnant, then take the steps necessary to ensure a 'head' and 'heart' start for their child.