Building Babies: Recipes for reproduction

By Mary Stutzman

Got mom’s secret recipe? It turns out, she may have taught you more than just how to make banana bread—our parents also pass down directions for how we conceive our children.

Researchers listed some key ingredients at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago this weekend.

A cookbook from the 1800's tells "How to make a woman conceive." Modern science is studying how mothers pass pregnancy traits to their children.
A cookbook from the 1800’s tells “How to make a woman conceive.” Modern science studies how mothers pass pregnancy traits to their children.

Placentas

Writers from WWII recorded that women who were born during the Dutch Hunger period had more stillbirths and smaller offspring, even decades after the event.
Results show that for women born with low birth weight, possibly due to a pregnant mother left hungry had 20 percent thinner placental membranes than average during their own pregnancy.

“It’s true, you are literally nothing without your placenta.” said Julienne Rutherford, who studies the thickness of membrane between mother and fetus.
“It’s true, you are literally nothing without your placenta.” said Julienne Rutherford University of Illinois Chicago who studies the thickness of membrane between mother and fetus. Her results show that for women born with low birth weight this membrane was 20% thinner during their own pregnancy.

Harvard researcher Katie Hinde explains her  the biological make-up of breast milk from monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center.
Harvard researcher Katie Hinde explains her the biological make-up of monkey breast milk from the California National Primate Research Center.

Milk

Though there’s lots of data from dairy science and cancer research, most people couldn’t tell you much about just plain old mother’s milk. But Katie Hinde, who studies monkey breastfeeding, said that our first food can tell us a lot. Every mother’s milk is different for each separate offspring. Mothers produce much richer milk for sons, while daughters feed more often and receive more calcium. These findings question whether baby formula, which is made for an average child, can or should replace the much more personalized mother’s milk.

A collage of words presented at the AAAS conference in Chicago Saturday illustrates the many factors involved in early human development.
A collage of words presented at the AAAS conference in Chicago Saturday illustrates the many factors involved in early human development.

The Cook Counts

Like any recipe though, it’s not just what you put in it, but also how you cook it that counts. Robin Nelson from the University of California Riverside found that based on height, weight, body fat and other measurements, Jamaican children raised by family and even extended family were healthier than those raised in children’s homes. Childhoods filled with fear and anxiety and safety and food lead to poorer health outcomes.
Science is discovering that early experiences have direct impact on a woman’s ability to reproduce, something to consider when writing your family recipe.