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When you’re pregnant, it might seem like you’re condemned to follow a lot of rules for nine long months. But altering your behavior is easier if you know why you’re doing it. That’s the goal of a new book, YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner’s Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy, by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D. Here, from epigenetics to sex, the host of The Dr. Oz Show, a father of four himself, touches on a few of the topics this book addresses.
Fit Pregnancy: Epigenetics is a big topic right now. What is this, and why was it so important to include a section on it in your book?
Mehmet Oz, M.D.: It means the notion that the genes we’re born with dictate our life history is wrong. In fact, a woman’s choices during pregnancy can help determine whether her baby’s genes for a certain condition are turned on or turned off. If a child is exposed to certain stresses in utero—like an inadequate blood supply or the mother’s obesity—the child’s DNA makes predictions about what the world outside will look like based on that exposure.
For example, if the mom has high blood sugar during pregnancy, the child’s genes will adjust to expect the same. If she’s malnourished, they will turn on to store more calories, as the child’s DNA is predicting famine; this can lead to obesity in childhood and later.
FP: Along those lines, your book suggests that a woman should eat for 1.1 during pregnancy. Why is that?
MO: The number of extra calories you need to nourish a baby is roughly 10 percent more than what you’d normally eat. That equates to one sticky bun or ice cream cone a day. No one’s saying you can’t have those things occasionally, but on a daily basis, you need to make every calorie count by eating foods that will give you and your baby the right stuff—vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc and DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid. Research shows that women who get enough DHA while they’re pregnant and breastfeeding have children who may enjoy better visual and cognitive development and function during infancy and for years to come.
FP: What’s one of the most serious health mistakes women tend to make when they’re expecting a baby?
MO: Many pregnant women don’t realize how important it is to continue being physically active, so this winds up becoming a very sedentary time for them. Historically, pregnant women were very active—working in the fields and maintaining muscle mass—and that helped them to recover quickly after delivery. Rather than thinking of having a baby as a two-year hiatus from exercise, think in terms of just a two-month hiatus—beginning about a month before your due date, when you start getting uncomfortable, until about a month afterward, when the discomfort from delivery has mostly passed.
FP: You talk about how important it is for a couple to stay connected during and after pregnancy. What can a woman do to make this happen?
MO: She can make sure her partner feels useful. Give him specific tasks, like researching and buying the car seat. And remember, sex or other forms of intimacy are important during pregnancy. Often, after delivery, the natural sexual tension that used to exist is lost. The husband thinks of his wife as the mother and experiences a loss of libido. Meanwhile, she thinks she’s not attractive. Maintaining that part of your relationship when you’re pregnant will help keep it alive afterward.
FP: We hear all these warnings—how about some good news for those of us having kids after age 35?
MO: The odds of getting pregnant later in life have improved dramatically. Aside from that, older women simply make great moms. They might be more secure, emotionally and financially. Keep in mind that throughout human history, women were pregnant pretty much every 18 months to two years from ages 16 or 17 until 45, so one-third of their children were born after the mom was 35.