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Learning and Good Health Begin in the Womb

Too Small to Fail
By Too Small to Fail

Science writer Annie Murphy Paul asked her audience a question during a presentation on early child development two years ago: When does human learning actually begin? The answer is that a human being begins to learn long before school starts, or even before she is born. Learning begins in-utero, when fetuses first start to recognize the sound of their mothers’ voices and the patterns of daily life.

We now understand that the experiences of a fetus while in-utero—the food her mother eats, her activity levels, environment and family life—help to determine her future learning and physical development. Prenatal care and good nutrition are vitally important because once a baby is born, she already carries much of the basic physiological data she will need to develop physically, cognitively and emotionally into a healthy adult.

Doctors have shared information about fetal development and the importance of good nutrition and general health with women for years. More recently we’ve learned that a lack of proper nutrition in the womb can result not just in birth defects and malnutrition in the baby, but can even result in chronic illnesses later in life like high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes. Research has also shown that high stress experienced during pregnancy can negatively impact a developing baby by repeatedly releasing stress hormones into his blood stream that impair his cognitive and physical functions.

But we’re also learning what kinds of activities are most helpful for developing babies and mothers alike. For example, taking appropriate levels of folic acid during pregnancy reduces the risk of certain spinal cord and brain-related birth defects and heart defects—and may even reduce the chance of autism.

Additionally, recent studies have found that a mother’s exercise while pregnant may boost her baby’s brain power by releasing higher levels of natural chemicals that improve learning. The increased heart rate experienced during a pregnant woman’s exercise also benefits the fetus by increasing its heart rate too, thereby helping to develop a stronger cardiovascular system.

Pregnant women can help improve their developing babies’ health and long-term well-being by visiting a doctor or midwife for regular prenatal check-ups, exercising appropriately, eating healthful food and avoiding risky behaviors or stressful environments. In short, the healthier a mother is, the healthier her baby can be. 

Read More:

  • These 10 tips for a healthy pregnancy from American Baby review simple do’s and don’ts for expecting moms.

  • The March of Dimes shares information about the importance of folic acid to developing fetuses.

  • Research information about prenatal care among mothers in California by race, income and geographic location, from Kidsdata.org.

 

In The News:

 

Video:

Annie Murphy Paul talks about how babies in-utero learn to recognize language, develop tastes for certain foods—and even experience fear. >>

Posted In: Newsletter