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How Can The Environment Affect Pregnancy and Child Development?

When a woman decides that she is ready to have a baby, it is wise to take steps to ensure a healthy pregnancy. These can include eating a balanced diet, taking prenatal vitamins, and exercising regularly.

The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou

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However, there are other important aspects to consider, according to research from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health. Environmental factors like air and water pollution, pesticides, and solid waste, for example, affect not only a woman's ability to become pregnant but also a child's physical development, from the fetus as well as as the child progresses to adolescence.

Allen Wilcox is a researcher in the Epidemiology Branch of the NIEHS and studies how environmental exposures affect human reproduction. NIEHS sat down with him to discuss the impact of the environment on pregnancy, fertility, and child development.

"Our mission at NIEHS is to understand how the environment affects people so that we can help promote healthier lives. Our institute has participated in scientific breakthroughs in several areas, including the environmental factor that affects the risk of congenital disabilities, preterm birth, and poor child development. " Wilcox says.

According to the researcher, one of these advances has to do with folic acid, which is an essential vitamin found in green leafy vegetables. Many people know that folic acid reduces the risk of severe congenital brain and spinal disabilities.

However, folic acid also reduces the risk of facial clefts, cleft lip, and palate. This was demonstrated in a study conducted by the NIEHS. But it is not enough to start taking folic acid when you know you are pregnant.

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These deformities occur very early in the baby's development, and if you don't start taking vitamins until you have pregnancy symptoms, it may be too late.

One of the most important things you can do before you get pregnant is to start taking multivitamins that include folic acid. Also, if you're a smoker, it's time to quit.

NIEHS scientists were the first to show that smoking reduces a woman's fertility. This finding has been confirmed many times by other researchers. Smoking also increases the chances of your baby dying in the womb and infant mortality after birth.

"Do yourself and your baby a favor and quit smoking," Wilcox warns.

Some pregnant women are concerned that vaccination could harm their baby. But according to the expert, there is no reason for this concern.

"Our Institute recently worked with researchers in Norway to study the 2009 flu epidemic. We found that babies of pregnant women who received the flu vaccine did well. However, women who contracted the flu during pregnancy were at higher risk. It seems that the flu itself is bad for the fetus, "says Wilcox.

After the baby is born, the environment continues to shape its health. An excellent example of how the NIEHS has helped protect nature is the story of leaded gasoline. All gas used to contain lead. The institution supported some of the investigations that led to the extraction of lead from gasoline.

This has dramatically reduced lead pollution in the air and significantly reduced children's exposure to lead. Exposure to lead can cause problems in many children, ranging from slower muscle and bone development to muscle incoordination and slower speech and language.

Therefore, it is essential to adopt habits and take measures that promote a healthier environment, not only for our generation but for those to come.

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