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Babies in the womb react to the taste of food that their mother eats. Yes, it's true. A study conducted in England found that babies (the fetus) during 32 to 36 weeks development generally smiled or laughed after their mother ate carrots, but grimaced after she ate kale.

The fetus can smell and taste the food that the mother eats. Researchers of the study said that the diet of the pregnant woman exposes the baby to all sorts of flavors and smells, and say that "prenatal flavor exposure" has an effect on "chemosensory development".

Fetus grimaces after tasting kale. Credit: B. Ustun et al.

Other studies had found that babies are more willing to eat foods that their mother had eaten during pregnancy, but this latest study actually had photographic evidence of the baby's responses. [The study has some good photos.] Some other earlier studies found that the  amniotic fluid is flavored by the foods a mother eats during pregnancy.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Babies react to taste and smell in the womb

Scientists have recorded the first direct evidence that babies react differently to various smells and tastes while in the womb by looking at their facial expressions.
...continue reading "The Developing Fetus Can Taste Foods the Mother Eats"

Credit: Wikipedia

Another study with concerning results for children and pregnant women has been published. This time researchers found a commonly used fungicide in a majority of children and all pregnant women studied. Some children had chronic exposure. A small study, but still...

The fungicide is azoxystrobin, and is commonly used on crops (e.g., cereals, grapevines, potatoes, fruits, nuts, and vegetable crops), lawns, and in mildew and mold-resistant wallboard used in home construction. The fungicide migrates out of the wallboard (sheetrock) and is found in house dust. Thus, humans can have chronic exposure to it.

And yes, this fungicide has worrisome health effects in animal studies - for example, toxic to embryos, neurotoxicity, brain inflammation. Studies in pregnant mice found that the fungicide went from the mother to the developing babies by crossing the placenta and then entered the developing brain. Much is unknown and studies need to be done!

The problem is that in the USA chemicals are easily approved by the government for use, and it is up to consumers and researchers later to prove harm. But typically that is not enough to get any changes and the chemicals in question keep on being produced and used and causing harm.

What to do? Eat organically grown food. The fungicide is not allowed on organic crops. Don't use pesticides on your lawn. If renovating or constructing a home - avoid mold and mildew-resistant wallboard brands.

From Medical Xpress: Scientists detect common fungicide in pregnant women and children

For the first time, UNC-Chapel Hill researchers have measured the concentration of a biomarker of the commonly used fungicide azoxystrobin (AZ) in the urine of pregnant women and children ranging from 40–84 months of age. They also documented maternal transfer of AZ to mouse embryos and weaning-age mice.  ...continue reading "Commonly Used Fungicide Detected In Pregnant Women and Children"

Some depressing news for pregnant women - they are exposed to and contaminated with more harmful industrial chemicals than ever before.

Thousands of chemicals are used in numerous consumer products and in food production (on farms, and in packaging). Not only can we get exposed to industrial chemicals from foods and products, but also from contaminated water, air, and dust.

Researchers looked for the presence of 103 industrial chemicals in the urine of pregnant women across the Unites States. The chemicals included plastics, pesticides, parabens, PAHs, as well as some of the "replacement chemicals" for BPA and phthalates. They found that most women had some of the chemicals in their bodies. Some chemicals were found in almost or ALL of them, including 3 insecticides, 2 parabens, 10 phthalates, and 1 PAH. Yikes!

Keep in mind that replacement chemicals (e.g., BPS for BPA) can be the same or even worse to health than the original chemicals.

Also, the researchers did NOT look for the presence of some commonly used chemicals (and which are linked to health harms) such as 2,4-D, pyrethroids, chlorpyrifos, and glyphosate. These are pesticides commonly used on (non-organic) farms, but also in our homes and yards. Other studies find the amounts of these pesticides are increasing in humans over the last 2 decades, and that some of these pesticides can be detected in the majority of humans.

Pregnancy is an especially important time in the life of the developing baby, and many chemicals are much more harmful then than at any other time in life. Chemicals to which pregnant women are exposed to cross the placenta - thus getting to the fetus. So it is really important to lower the amount and number of chemicals that a pregnant woman is exposed to.

How to lower your exposure to harmful chemicals: [From list of quick tips]

1) Eat as many organic foods as possible.

2) Avoid using pesticides in your home and garden, and instead look for nontoxic, organic, or least toxic IPM (Integrated Pest Management) solutions.

3) Read labels to avoid phthalates, parabens, "antimicrobial", anti-odor in personal care items.

4) Don't use dryer sheets (not needed!) or detergents or other products with fragrances.  [ Complete list of quick tips.]

Two good, but different write-ups of the research: 1) From Medical Xpress: Study of pregnant women finds increasing exposure to chemicals from plastics and pesticides

A national study that enrolled a highly diverse group of pregnant women over 12 years found rising exposure to chemicals from plastics and pesticides that may be harmful to development. ...continue reading "Pregnant Women Are Exposed To More Chemicals and Pesticides"

Pregnancy should last 9 months, but sometimes it doesn't. With medical advances some babies born as early as 22 or 23 weeks can now survive. Truly miraculous! But how are these extremely preterm babies doing long-term?

A University of Gothenburg study examined this issue by following up on all 383 Swedish children born before 24 weeks (most at 23 weeks) between 2007 to 2018 and who survived. At follow-up the children were between 2 to 13 years of age. The researchers found that almost all of the children had serious long-term problems, whether health or developmental problems.

75% of children born before 24 weeks of gestation had neurodevelopmental disorders, including intellectual disabilities (40%), autism (24%), and 55% required habilitation services. 88% of the group had other physical problems - for example, 63% had asthma and 39% failed to thrive and/or were short for their age. Boys were more likely to have intellectual disabilities and visual impairment than girls.

Looking at the results in the study (see Table 1), it is clear that babies born at 23 weeks had significantly fewer serious problems than at 22 weeks. Every extra week is important!

From Science Daily: Wide-ranging problems in children born before 24 weeks gestation

In a study of children born after a pregnancy of less than 24 weeks, nearly all (96 percent) proved to have any of the diagnoses studied. According to the study, lead from the University of Gothenburg, neuropsychiatric and somatic diagnoses are prevalent as these extremely preterm infants grow into adulthood. ...continue reading "Babies Born Much Too Early May Have Long-term Problems"

Pregnant women turn to the internet for pregnancy information. There are some good sites out there, but also some pregnancy apps loaded with all sorts of false pregnancy information. This is because many of them primarily view pregnant women as customers to be advertised to and sold products. Beware!

A good article about the problems with many pregnancy apps (written by disinformation researcher Nina Jankowicz) sums it up. From Wired: The Internet Is Failing Moms-to-Be

"Pregnancy apps, I quickly learned, aren’t in the business of providing comfort; they are a fantasy-land-cum-horror-show, providing little realistic information about the journey to parenthood. They capitalize on the excitement and anxiety of moms-to-be, peddling unrealistic expectations and even outright disinformation to sell ads and keep users engaged. They foster negative repercussions on the physical and mental health of both mothers and their unborn children, generating profit from the onslaught of emotions brought on by pregnancy."

Studies find that the majority (over 50%) of pregnant women do internet searches (e.g. Google), and then download apps (an average of 3 apps) focused on pregnancy. The overwhelmingly main reason (83%) is to monitor fetal development (e.g. how big is the fetus now? what can it do?). In a distant second and third place are prenatal nutrition and prenatal care. Researchers found that more free apps are downloaded, rather than apps that have to be paid for. (Of course!)

This is why good information pregnancy sites are important. The Wired article mentions that a Forbes article has a list of Best Pregnancy Apps of 2022, but that accuracy of information of the apps is not part of the ranking. Too bad, but at least this list is a start.

Human fetus attached by umbilical cord to placenta, 3 months. Credit: National Museum of Health and Medicine

Unfortunately, while the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has a pregnancy site, it doesn't have a fetal development (e.g. what occurs week by week) page. It needs lots and lots of photos of how the baby (fetus) looks at each stage of development.

Decades ago the Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson published a book A Child Is Born with photographs of what the developing fetus looks like throughout pregnancy. Pregnant women loved the photos, and this is what women still want to see - What does the baby look like week by week during pregnancy? What is happening each week? There is now a 5th edition of the book, and while it is still a great book, it should contain more photos which are organized chronologically.

Some good news for women who had a Covid-19 infection during pregnancy - one small study found reassuring results about the growth and development of the babies. The Northwestern University researchers found that at the 6 month checkup the babies overall had normal growth patterns and developmental milestones. This is great, great news!

Yes, it was a small study (33 low-income women and their babies). Three infants (10%) did receive development-related referrals (one had an underlying genetic diagnosis) - but the "referrals not higher" than what the physicians said they normally see. More good news: none of the babies tested positive for COVID-19.

From Science Daily: Normal 6-month outcomes in babies of women with COVID-19 during pregnancy

Babies born to women who had COVID-19 during pregnancy showed reassuring patterns of growth and development at 6-month follow-up, according to a study from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern Medicine in partnership with Erie Family Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that serves a diverse and low-income patient population.  ...continue reading "COVID-19 During Pregnancy and Some Reassuring News About the Baby"

The possibility of amniotic fluid being flavored by the foods a mother eats is wild! Makes sense, but it is not something normally mentioned anywhere. It turns out that in the last few years a few studies were published that looked at foods flavoring the amniotic fluid and breast milk, and which later influence the flavors and foods a child prefers.

Research finds that at least some of the foods (e.g., alcohol, anise, carrot, garlic) that a mother eats during pregnancy flavors the amniotic fluid and breast milk, and then these foods or flavors are more accepted during infancy and childhood. During the period a mother breastfeeds, there is evidence babies detect the flavors of alcohol, anise/caraway, carrot, eucalyptus, garlic, mint, a variety of vegetables, peaches, and vanilla. Foods with these flavors appear in breastmilk soon after eating them - within 1 hour!

The few studies done all found greater acceptance and willingness to eat foods in infancy and childhood that had flavors the children were exposed to during pregnancy and/or when nursed. The overall thinking of researchers Spahn and others is that the mother's diet during pregnancy and lactation provides "the earliest opportunity to positively influence child food acceptance and preferences."

Of course the studies are limited in that only a few flavors are looked at in each study. But thinking about it - of course that is how a child accepts new flavors. It's the exposure and getting used to them. Formula always tastes the same, but breast milk varies a little every day! Some researchers suggest that there may be a critical period early in life where exposure to sour and bitter tastes (e.g., broccoli) can be made palatable to the baby. [scroll down to study #3]

These results also support not giving bland and unappetizing single flavor foods in baby jars to babies - instead give them the actual foods the parents are eating! Mash it with a fork, or even use a blender or food mill, but give them the real foods, flavored how the parent likes it. After all, they've already been exposed to those tastes.

The following 3 studies discuss this topic in more detail:

1) A group of researchers reviewed studies related to the topic of the mother's diet during pregnancy and lactation (breastfeeding), amniotic fluid flavor, breast milk flavor, and children's food acceptability. From the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2019): Influence of maternal diet on flavor transfer to amniotic fluid and breast milk and children's responses: a systematic review

Limited but consistent evidence indicates that flavors (alcohol, anise, carrot, garlic) originating from the maternal diet during pregnancy can transfer to and flavor amniotic fluid, and fetal flavor exposure increases acceptance of similarly flavored foods when re-exposed during infancy and potentially childhood.  ...continue reading "Amniotic Fluid is Flavored by the Foods the Pregnant Woman Eats"

Planned home births are safe, as safe as births at a birth center. Those are the conclusions from a large Washington state study looking at low-risk women delivering with a licensed midwife at either a licensed birth center or at home. This is very reassuring because home births are considered controversial in the US.

The Univ. of British Columbia and Bastyr Univ. researchers analyzed outcomes of 10,609 births, of which 40.9% were planned home births and 59.1% were planned birth center births. Overall, they found low Cesarean rates (4.7%), high breastfeeding rates (93%), and low rates of complications in both groups. The infant death rate was also low in both groups, with 0.57 deaths per 1,000 (includes perinatal and and neonatal deaths).

It must be stressed that in this study they looked at low-risk pregnant women. Low-risk meant they were healthy pregnancies, with babies full-term, only 1 baby (not twins), babies were in a head down position (not breech), the women did not have a prior cesarean delivery, no hypertensive disorders, and no pre-pregnancy diabetes. By the way, Washington state is supportive of midwives, and they are well-integrated into the health care system.

The study results are similar to a large international study comparing planned home births with planned hospital births and finding no differences between the two in risk of perinatal or neonatal death.

From Medical Xpress: Planned home birth presents little risk where midwifery is well-integrated: study

In the state of Washington, a planned home birth with a licensed midwife is just as safe as a birth at a licensed birth center.  ...continue reading "Comparing Home Births With Birth Center Births"

For years pregnant women were told that taking acetaminophen (also known as paracetamol) during pregnancy is OK - that it doesn't harm the baby. And more than half of pregnant women worldwide report taking acetaminophen (in Tylenol) during pregnancy, whether for pain, fever, or headaches. Ooops! It may not be harmless.

Acetaminophen is the most common drug taken by pregnant women. But... research suggests that the drug can alter fetal development, and this can increase the risks of some neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, language delay in girls, and decreased IQ), reproductive tract disorders (e.g. male undescended testicles), and urogenital disorders in the baby. It is an endocrine disruptor. The studies find similar results in both humans and animals.

As a result, more than 90 scientists, doctors, and public health researchers published a consensus statement calling on U.S. and European regulators to conduct new safety reviews of acetaminophen, to raise awareness of possible dangers of the drug, and for doctors to inform women of possible risks of taking the drug during pregnancy..

Bottom line:  If you absolutely need to take Tylenol during pregnancy, use the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.

From Environmental Health News: Researchers, doctors call for regulators to reassess safety of taking acetaminophen during pregnancy

More than 90 scientists, doctors, and public health researchers are calling on U.S. and European regulators to conduct new safety reviews of acetaminophen, pointing to mounting evidence that fetal exposure to the commonly used pain reliever could increase the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders and reproductive system effects.  ...continue reading "Acetaminophen Use During Pregnancy May Harm the Baby"

When COVID-19 vaccines first became available to the general public in 2021, women were concerned over whether it was safe to get vaccinated during pregnancy. The answer (from medical studies) is yes, the vaccines are safe and beneficial for both the mother and baby. This is great news!

Also, a recent study found that when women get a mRNA vaccine (either Pfizer or Moderna) during pregnancy, they pass high levels of antibodies to their babies. This means 100% of the babies had protective antibodies to COVID-19 when they were born. The New York University researchers found the highest level of antibodies in the infants when the mothers received the vaccine in the second half of pregnancy.

Current CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women get the COVID-19 vaccine. This is because getting COVID-19 during pregnancy can result in more severe disease, higher risk of preterm birth and  pregnancy outcomes.

BOTTOM LINE: Getting the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy protects both the mother and baby. (By the way, studies also find that nursing transfers antibodies to the baby in the breast milk, but it is still unclear if the levels are high enough to fully protect the baby from COVID-19).

From Science Daily: Pregnant women who receive COVID-19 vaccination pass protection from the virus to their newborns

Women who receive the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy pass high levels of antibodies to their babies, a new study finds.  ...continue reading "The COVID-19 Vaccine During Pregnancy Protects Both Mother and Baby"