No pressure, Mom!

Annie Murphy Paul's new book, Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, is getting the star treatment. It is the subject of a Time magazine cover story (written by Paul), and an article by the New York Times' Motherlode blogger, Lisa Belkin.

And why not? Paul has written what looks to be a fascinating exploration of the explosion of research on the effects of the environment human beings encounter while developing in their mothers' wombs.Origins by Annie Murphy Paul

In a guest post for Motherlode (the link is above), Paul writes, "Startling as it may seem, qualities ranging from our intelligence to our temperament to our health, and our susceptibility to diseases as varied as cancer, asthma, obesity, diabetes and mental illness, are affected by our experiences as fetuses decades ago."

We have already considered one aspect of this research here at Birth Story, how a mother's weight gain during pregnancy can influence her infant's lifetime chances of being able to maintain a healthy weight. But Paul covers the waterfront in this "new chapter in the long-running nature-nurture debate," as she calls it.

In her Motherlode guest post, Paul raises and then downplays the likelihood that mothers will be blamed for anything that goes awry with their children, given the new understandings of the importance of what goes on in the womb.

Love Paul's optimism! And, I'm impressed she researched this book while she was pregnant. I'm looking forward to reading it.

The latest edition of doctors’ book on birth

Often, the annual meeting of a medical group produces a flurry of scientific papers, but the meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists seems more like, say, a bunch of writers  getting together. (I attended the 2009 meeting in Chicago.) As a cohort, OB-GYNs seem to want to find out about the newest approaches, tools and techniques they might put to use in their practices, and perhaps exchange some stories from the trenches as well.

Happy babyBut here's something new for consumers from ACOG, which held its annual meeting in San Francisco this week. The fifth edition of Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month was unveiled, along with a new companion website,  www.yourpregnancyandchildbirth.com.

While there are many pregnancy books, this one is "unique in the extent of the medical detail that it covers about all aspects of pregnancy, yet it is designed as an easy-to-read, helpful reference for all of those questions that inevitably pop up," said Hal Lawrence, MD, The College's vice president of practice activities in a press release on the ACOG website.

The latest edition of the book has a new chapter that addresses obesity and eating disorders, another devoted to diabetes during pregnancy, and a third covering other chronic diseases like hypertension, heart disease, celiac disease, lupus, and physical and mental disabilities.

"The majority of women do not experience severe complications, but we felt it was important to give a thorough overview so women will know if something's wrong and when to call a doctor," Dr. Lawrence said.

Another new chapter covers feeding the baby, and includes advice on both breastfeeding and the use of formula.

What a difference a century makes!

At the beginning of the 20th century, pregnant women put their affairs in order and kissed their families with fervor before they went into labor, knowing they might not survive their "travail."

A decade into the 21st century, birth has become so safe in industrialized countries that we tend to take that safety for granted. The vast majority of women sail through birth without a hitch.

In addition, women who 100 years ago could not have hopefully embarked on a pregnancy -- women with diabetes, for example -- now are able to bear children with careful monitoring.

Some women do still encounter problems that can be life-threatening, however, and it's not always possible to predict which women those will be.