We usually accept that our personalities and physical characteristics are some combination of what we learn during childhood, what we do as adults, and what’s hard-coded into our DNA, but in the last ten years, a growing number of studies are saying that their might be a fourth factor involved in making us who we are: Our “fetal origins”. TIME magazine’s recent article, How the First Nine Months Shape the Rest of Your Life explains the growing body of research proving that what happens in utero, not just genetics, could greatly influence our minds and bodies later in life.
We’ve known for a long time that drinking and smoking during pregnancy can lead to serious birth defects, but this research reveals that things like a mother’s emotional stress, eating habits, and even the quality of air she breathes can make her child predisposed to certain mental and physical health issues later in life, separate from what they might have inherited from their genes or caused by behavior later in life. Among the study findings are correlations that have serious outcomes for our health: children of mothers who experience starvation or malnutrition are considerably more likely to develop schizophrenia, according to some studies; those born of mothers who gain excessive weight during pregnancy are more likely to become obese later in life; children of mothers exposed to air pollution have increased risk of cancer later in life.
Though the research is still new and theories are still developing, many scientists are hopeful that the notion of fetal origins could motivate mothers to modify behavior, at least during the terms of their pregnancy; even if you can’t keep up a perfect diet all the time, you could probably do it for nine months, right?