Pregnancy and Lactation Weekly Digest

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For the week ending on March 5, 2017.

If you’re stressed, the baby inside you probably is too!

Everyone has stress in their lives sometimes; the car won’t start, the dishwasher broke, there is a deadline or review looming at work. But toxic stress – the stress that comes from constantly feeling anxious or depressed – is different. Relentless exposure to a mother’s toxic stress can shape the architecture of a developing baby’s brain, making him less prepared to deal with the normal stresses he will undoubtedly face in his own life. Read more here.

This is important for you because, if you are constantly feeling overwhelmed by life, there are tools to help you deal that can save not only your outlook and psyche but your baby’s as well.

 She looks like an Emma…

When given a list of names and pictures of strangers, subjects in a psychological study were able to match the correct names to the faces at a rate greater than would be expected by random chance. The phenomenon seems to be dependent on culture; Israeli subjects were good at matching Israeli faces and names, and French subjects were good at matching French faces and names, but they couldn’t do each other’s. The authors of the study thus speculate that we subconsciously alter our appearance to match cultural stereotypes conveyed by our names. Weirdly, though, a computer with no cultural baggage could match names with faces pretty well too. Read more here.

This is important for you because, although you already knew that giving another human a name was a big deal, you may not have realized that it may actually affect her appearance!

Genes associated with autism may also be involved in cognition

Evolutionary biologists are always perplexed by the perseverance of negative genetic traits in a population. If they are disadvantageous, the thinking goes, they should be rooted out; since they stick around, they must be conferring some benefit. The current upswing in autoimmune diseases and allergies is thus hypothesized to be due to genes that in the past were important for mounting a strong immune response to pathogens; now we have largely eliminated the pathogens, but we’re left with hyper vigilant immunity. Similarly, a new study of genes associated with autism spectrum disorders – but not other neuronal disorders – suggests that these genes might play roles in cognition. Read more here.

This is important for you because, regardless of the challenges you and your children face, there may be a silver lining somewhere.

Less sleep for moms

Having kids is really tiring – and it seems to be more tiring for women than for men. Women with a child in the house got less sleep that women without children, but this effect was not observed in men. This data was generated via questionnaire and did not include information as to the children’s ages, so it is difficult to determine why it might be the case. Read more here.

This is important for you because sleep is important! It is hard once your baby is born, but try to get it when you can.

You’re lucky to be having this baby here and now

Approximately 40% of pregnancies worldwide are unplanned. Many women – and in the developing world, many young teenage girls – do not have access to contraceptives; without the family planning tools that we in the developed world take for granted, the trajectories of their lives are dictated by constant childbearing. Melinda Gates, who has worked to combat this problem, writes: “When women are able to plan their pregnancies around their goals for themselves and their families, they are also better able to finish their education, earn an income, and fully participate in their communities. In communities where women have access to contraceptives, children stay in school longer, and entire families are healthier, wealthier and far better equipped to break the cycle of poverty.” Read more here.

This is important for you because a dose of perspective is almost always good for everyone. You and your baby are lucky to be living in this time and place.

The most popular article on The Pulse this week was Patterned Breathing Exercises For The First And Second Stages Of Labor, Which primarily function to reduce stress (as they can in the rest of life). Read it here.

This is important for you because there are a number of different breathing techniques that can really help you deal with the pain of labor and the stress of childbearing, so it is worth learning some to see which might work best for you.

Diana Gitig
Dr. Diana Gitig has a Ph.D. in cell biology and genetics from Cornell University, and has been writing about issues in biology – from molecular biology to cancer to immunology to neuroscience to nutrition to agriculture - for the past fifteen years. She has three teenaged children.

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