If you believe your baby’s genetics are predetermined the moment a sperm radar-locks on an egg, are you in for a surprise! Of all the things we want you to learn as your pregnancy progresses, two of the most important involve things that you may have never spent much time thinking about: epigenetics and your placenta.
Back in 10th grade biology, you were probably taught that the unique combination of genes you received from your mom and dad were responsible for everything that followed; the color of your eyes, the size of your feet, your love of lasagna, your fear of all eight-legged and no-legged creatures. And to a certain extent, that’s true. But recently, experts have discovered that classical genetics is only part of your baby’s picture.
It’s not just your genes that determine who you are, but how those genes are expressed;a cutting-edge field called epigenetics. While you can’t control which genes you pass on to your child, you do have some influence in how those genes behave.
Think about how music is created. Your DNA is the musical composition that will determine the individuality of your child (there are zillions of ways to put musical notes together, after all). But the catch is that there are many different ways to interpret any given song, depending on whether you are a pop star, a jazz musician, or a philharmonic. Same song, different interpretations, lots of possible end results.
You and your partner have your own set of DNA, and you made your own biological song in the form of a baby. That genetic coding is indeed fixed, but you still do have the ability to interpret the song and change the way your offspring’s genes are expressed through some of the actions you take during pregnancy. And we’re telling you how to produce the healthiest results.
Maybe you don’t think much about your placenta, but this is where all the magic happens. It’s a plate of tissue with a smooth surface that looks a lot like a plate of congealed spaghetti. Your placenta is responsible for the exchanging of all nutrients and waste products between you and your baby.
It happens like this: Fetal blood flows into the placenta and interfaces with the uterus to exchange nutrients (like glucose, vitamins, calcium, and so on) and dump waste (like carbon monoxide, urine, and metabolic wastes). Weighing in at about 1¼ pounds, the placenta works like a two-way filter: Stuff goes through it from one side to the other but without directly touching what’s on the other side. There’s typically no direct contact between fetal blood and mom’s blood.
But your placenta serves the ultimate higher purpose: It makes sure your baby is always served in an emergency by working as that filter and nutrient source; in fact, it will take from you the essential ingredients it needs to feed your baby.
And while it may be a filter by getting rid of the bad and absorbing only the goo, it’s not a perfect filter. The placenta lets everything through below a certain size. That means any toxins you take in can get passed to the fetus as well, whether it’s the gunk from cigarettes, saturated and trans fatty foods, or other toxic substances. And that’s why we want you to pay so much attention to what goes inside your body during pregnancy. Anything you ingest or inhale, your baby does too. So make the most of what you give yourself and the baby each day.
Pop Your Pills
Take a prenatal vitamin and a DHA supplement each day.
Folic acid – Your baby needs folic acid from the prenatals because it has a direct effect on her DNA. If she doesn’t get enough folic acid, her DNA can go through changes that cause her to add chemicals that have been linked to birth defects called neural tube defects. The recommended daily allowance of folic acid is 400 micrograms (mcg). Most prenatal vitamins contain 800 mcg of folic acid. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’ve had a baby with a neural tube defect regarding your unique folic acid needs.
DHA – DHA helps create a myelin sheath that speeds up connections between neurons. 200 milligrams (mg) of DHA through fish, fortified foods, or supplements is what you need for a healthy pregnancy. Recent research shows that 600-900 mg may be even better. We recommend 600 mg of DHA daily.
Walk and Stretch
Now’s a good time to start (or continue) walking every day to build up a base level of fitness and also minimize the chances that you get hurt. Aim for 30 minutes every day. You should incorporate some flexibility and strength training into your routine as well to prepare your body for the rigors of pregnancy and parenthood. Kegels, also known as pelvic floor exercises, and a core workout will help you get your muscles back in shape postpartum.
You hear it all the time – stress is detrimental to your health and increases your risks of preeclampsia and preterm labor. To reduce stress:
Your baby eats everything you do (hello jalapenos!). So for your child’s optimal development, play the simple game of “green light, red light” when it comes to eating:
|Green Light Foods||Red Light Foods||Fruits|
Fish, especially trout and salmon
Lean poultry (non-fried)
Nuts (especially walnuts)
Dried beans, peas
|Saturated and trans fats|
Enriched or bleached flour or grain that isn’t 100% whole grain