Healthy Baby? In Summer, Maybe…

2009-04-05 | |
Last updated: 2009-04-05

Our bodies and the bodies of all but the most basic organisms are extremely elaborate machines with an almost immeasurable number of chemical interactions keeping the whole system running smoothly. When considering the complexity of our bodies, however, the day-to-day internal maintenance is trivial in comparison to the intricate task of creating a new life. When a life is being created, not only do the normal processes that maintain a functioning life form need to keep operating, but they also need to constantly adapt and work in conjunction with other processes that are building the new living being cell by cell.

Needless to say, building a baby is a very complicated task so the ongoing findings identifying new causes of birth defects are not surprising. Around the world, approximately 3% of all births involve some complication from a birth defect and with more than 4000 known types of birth defect, there are many ways in which problems can appear. With the inherent complexity of the activity, it is actually surprising that the rate of defects is not higher.

Most people are aware of the more common and publicized causes of birth defects. Mothers generally avoid drinking while pregnant for fear of a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome and the associated development related disorders. Women who decide to conceive after age 35 are made well aware of the age-related increase in the risks of having a child with Down’s syndrome. Similarly, women on medications for various medical conditions must often stop taking these drugs well in advance of conceiving in order to protect the health of their offspring.

In addition, mothers should be aware of newer finding to protect their unborn child’s health. While women are usually aware of the importance of good nutrition during pregnancy, it is important to keep in mind that a simple deficiency such as low B12 can have very negative effects. At low levels of B12 that may even have no effect on the mother, the baby can experience brain or spinal cord defects and the risk of such defects can be from 3 to 5 times as high as for a woman with normal B12 levels. Even low levels of iron and fiber can cause defects in the form of spine and spinal cord abnormalities.

Beyond specific nutritional factors, other lifestyle factors, such as obesity can also have negative effects with obese mothers having twice the risk of their newborn being born with kidney problems, heart problems, a cleft lip, an abnormal anus or even the buildup of excess spinal fluid in the brain, called hydrocephaly. Recent findings also indicate, not surprisingly, that mothers who smoke during pregnancy double the chances of their child having a cleft lip or cleft palate.

While many of the risk factors for birth defects mentioned so far can have very negative effects, the one thing in their favour is that most can be prevented through education, diet and lifestyle choices. However, the recent finding published in the Acta Paediatrica medical journal that links births to increased levels of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers poses a more uncontrollable risk for those trying to conceive.

The study, that looked at all 30.1 million US births from 1996 to 2002, found a strong correlation between conception in the months of April to July and an increased rate of birth defects. The range of months corresponds to the time of year when agriculture, golf courses, sports fields and mosquito spraying are all very active. These defects included serious issues such as spina bifida, cleft lip, clubfoot and Down’s syndrome. Because these chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers have long been known to have negative health effects to adults, their potential for causing birth defects is by no means a surprise. The real question however is what a prospective mother can do.

Given the direct relation of birth defects to date of conception, its probably a good bet that waiting until the fall is the safest way to reduce the risks from birth defects that are largely outside of an individual’s control. A more active long term approach is to write your mayor, your governor and a senator and ask them why they think its so important that the sports fields are that perfect lawn green and whether they think the health cost is worth it.

You can also grow your own vegetables without chemicals if you want complete control or buy organic products in the super market just to send some agriculture producers a message that you do not like how they are growing your veggies. After all, while it is important to protect the health of your baby now, your baby is going to grow up and keeping them healthy will be a long-term goal.

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