The latest research indicates that what parents eat and breathe is often more of a determining factor in how the child turns out than their parents' genes. Obviously, if you're pregnant and happen to work in a nuclear waste plant, you might want to look for other employment. But seemingly innocent things can affect that baby, too. For example, a study in "Human Reproduction" reported that if a pregnant woman eats more than seven servings a week of beef, the son that will be born is more likely to have "poor sperm quality" when he grows up. The baby's not even out yet, and you have to worry about his ability to have babies?
Needless to say, pesticides, pollution, and poisons are all bad for the unborn baby. And of course, if you eat a lot of high-fat, high-sugar foods during your pregnancy, your baby may be predisposed to becoming obese later.
But it's not all bad news. You can do some things to help that unborn child. All those obnoxious fathers who brag that the reason their kid is so good at playing shortstop is because he has "Dad's genes" are in for a rude awakening. Pregnant women who take supplements of omega-3 fatty acids are more likely to have kids with good hand-eye coordination. So, back off, Dad. It could be the pills that Mom took that make Junior an All-Star.
Of course, you can get omega-3 fatty acids from some fish, but doctors warn pregnant women not to eat too much fish because they might be tainted with mercury and other toxins. But nobody knows exactly how much is too much fish. Confusing? It's maddening.
Somehow, most mothers and babies end up being just fine. But that doesn't mean you're home free. After the baby is born, you have the confusion over what toys are OK to buy. Lately, the news has reported more toy recalls than slips made by presidential candidates. Toy after toy has been found to be decorated with lead paint. Other toys were found to explode or possibly burn the kids playing with them. One of the latest recalls involves something called "Aqua Dots." If swallowed, these things turn into a powerful "date rape drug." Now that's something my parents didn't have to worry about when I was in that playpen with the little girl from down the block.
And if you think you'll get a break by putting the baby in front of the television set, forget it. The current writers' strike effects children's programs as well as adults'. And who among you doesn't think your child is smart enough to tell a rerun from a new show?
Just as in previous generations, the joy one gets from a child should make up for all the confusion and difficulties. Obviously, there has been much progress that has made prospective parents more informed and babies healthier in recent years. But sometimes it seems that many of the scientific advances have made pregnancy more stressful.
So even though it would be nice for strangers to offer to carry things for me and for my friends to tell me that I'm "glowing," I'm still happy that men can't get pregnant. But I guarantee you that scientists somewhere are working on making that possible right now. And I'll bet most of those scientists are women.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them with pregnant pauses in them.
By Lloyd Garver