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Pregnancy: The Fetal Frontier

Cutting-edge fetal research is challenging some of the conventional wisdom about pregnancy, producing findings that may surprise you. Research is revealing that pregnancy is not a generically ideal experience to which one must aspire (and, inevitably, fall short of), but instead it's a highly personal and particular shaping of the fetus for the specific world into which it will be born. The mix of influences one encounters in the womb are as individual and idiosyncratic as the pregnant woman herself -- and that's the way nature intended it.

Nonetheless, throughout history, lack of medical knowledge, superstition, and stereotypes have produced several myths and misconceptions about pregnancy. Modern research is debunking some of them: 

  • Myth - Stress during pregnancy is always bad for the fetus.

REALITY: New research shows that a moderate level of stress is actually good for the fetus. It tones the fetus's nervous system and accelerates its development. Women who experienced moderate stress during pregnancy have two-week-old infants with brains that work at a faster speed than infants of mothers without the same stress, and two-year old toddlers with higher motor and mental development scores.

  • Myth - Pregnant women shouldn't eat sweets.

REALITY: There's a big exception to this rule: chocolate. New studies show that pregnant women who eat chocolate every day during pregnancy have babies who show less fear and smile and laugh more often at six months of age. Another study finds that women who eat five or more servings of chocolate each week during their third trimester have a 40 percent lower risk of developing the dangerous high blood pressure condition known as preeclampsia.

  • Myth - Pregnant women should avoid exercise.

REALITY: When a pregnant woman exercises, her fetus gets a beneficial workout too. Research shows that the fetuses of pregnant women who are physically active have heart rates that are slower and more variable which are both signs of good cardiovascular health. The babies of exercisers have lower birth weights and may even become more intelligent adults because of their bigger brains.

  • Myth - Pregnant women should stay away from seafood.

REALITY: In fact, eating lots of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury during pregnancy produces smarter kids. Children whose mothers ate at least twelve ounces of seafood a week during pregnancy had higher verbal IQ, better social and communication skills, and superior motor skills, according to a study published in a leading journal.

  • Myth - Pregnancy is just a nine-month wait for the big event.

REALITY: Scientists are learning that pregnancy is a crucial period in itself: "the staging ground for well-being and disease in later life," as one researcher puts it. Pregnancy is now like a new scientific frontier. Obstetrics was once a sleepy medical specialty and research on pregnancy a scientific backwater. Now the nine months of gestation are the focus of intense interest and excitement and the subject of an exploding number of journal articles, books, and conferences.

There’s so much to learn about pregnancy and still many unknowns. If you are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, work with any of our doctors. They can help you come up with a plan for a healthy pregnancy and delivery and can answer any questions you have about symptoms, complications, and what to expect.

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