Mamas on Bedrest: Get Your Babies off to a Healthy Start!

August 24th, 2011

When I was pregnant with my son, my then 3 year old daughter used to come up to my belly and scream, “Hi baby! How are you? It’s your big sister!” In response to her voice, my son would roll around in my belly and reposition himself (typically away from her voice) comfortably.  So it’s really no surprise to me now, 5 1/2 years later, that my son often tunes his big sister out. “Do this. Do that. You’re not listening to my words…” He’s heard it all before, loud and clear, and has reached the conclusion that he’d really rather place his energy elsewhere.

Mamas on Bedrest, our relationships with our children begin long before they are born.  Some research even suggests that from the moment we become pregnant, our words, thoughts and deeds are influencing the growth and development of our babies and will exert this same influence into adulthood and into the aging process. Mark Hanson, a professor at the University of Southampton in England conducts research into the relationship between prenatal health and care and infant and child development.

According to Hanson, a pregnant mother’s body and the body of her developing baby have an intricate and constant dialogue going on for the duration of the pregnancy-from conception until delivery. Everything that the mother does from eating a nutritiously balanced diet, to exercising, taking a good prenatal vitamin and getting enough rest sends signals to the developing baby how to prepare and how to adapt to the external environment. This ability to accept these cues, integrate them and adapt makes infants more adaptable and as a result, better able to weather complications that may arise not only during the pregnancy, labor and delivery but also later in life.

Research into the “developmental origins of adult disease” suggests that a mother’s healthy living prenatally may help her child avoid problems such as cancer, heart disease, depression and diabetes not just in childhood, but 50 years from now. According to Peter Gluckman at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, even though adults must eat well, exercise and reduce stress to help avoid disease, research is indicating that how mothers take care of themselves during the prenatal course may also have profound impact on whether or not their children develop chronic diseases as a result. Many of these cues come to the fetus via the amniotic fluid and maternal blood.

Here is the explanation.

Prior to birth, environmental cues help program a person’s DNA. This programming is called epigenetics. 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. Chemicals, stress and other environmental influences can thus profoundly alter how a person’s DNA manifests.

For example, babies exposed in the womb to synthetic hormones may begin responding abnormally to the natural hormones later made by their own bodies. In the same way babies and children exposed to prenatal stress can also learn abnormal reactions to stress.

So in a nutshell, if a fetus “gets the message” from its mother that there is not enough good, healthy food available (because she is not eating healthy foods or enough food) the baby may hoard its calories. Studies done on pregnant women during famines show that the babies born to them actually developed an extra layer of abdominal fat in preparation for famine. A problem arises when a mother is not in a famine, but perhaps of low income or just eats poorly. If her baby develops the extra layer of abdominal fat, when food is plentiful, that child is at risk for becoming obese and at risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes as an adult.

What can Mamas on Bedrest do to get their babies off to a healthy start? First and foremost, relax. I can hear many of you gasping and berating yourselves, thinking you’ve done something wrong and that it’s all your fault that you are on bed rest.

Stop that stinkin’ thinkin’!

Every year some 750,000 women are prescribed bed rest for a portion of their pregnancies. You most likely didn’t do a thing wrong, but are a consequence of the law of averages.

Keep stress to a minimum. The more stressed you are, the more stress your baby will experience and adapt to. Epigenetics is real. Let’s help your baby learn a healthy adaptation to stress instead of a heightened stress reaction.

Rest. Yup, you heard me, get some rest. I know that it can be hard to rest while on bed rest; the boredom, the body aches, the worry… but try. Believe me, once your baby gets here, you’ll wish you had taken more naps!

Eat well. This is one of the most important factors to come from the research findings. Eat enough of a nutritious diet so that your baby learns to expect nutritious foods and in adequate quantities. If you need help, please don’t be afraid to ask. There are many resources available at the local, state and federal levels that will ensure that you and your baby are well nourished. Please make the call if necessary. Your health and the health of your baby depend on it.

Ask for help and support. That statement, “It takes a village to raise a child” is true. You may be thinking, sure, once the baby is born, but as these researchers and studies show, help and support of mamas is needed from the very beginning. If you are on bed rest, you need even more help and support. Enlist the help of family, friends and neighbors. Don’t be too proud or ashamed to seek out the support of churches and civic groups. And when all else fails, contact us, info@mamasonbedrest or visit and let us help you out!

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Aging well starts in womb, as mom’s choices affect whole life USAToday Article, June 30, 2009

Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, W. Thomas Boyce, MDBruce S. McEwen, PhD  “Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, and the Childhood Roots of Health Disparities: Building a New Framework for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention” JAMA 2009;301[21]:2252-2259

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