By Jena Pincott
Published in the UK by Souvenir Press, 2013
I'll be absolutely honest and say, hand on heart, that I expected to discover only a few new things about the science of pregnancy and early neonatal health when I picked up this book. As a retired midwife who had - and continues to have - a keen interest in anything relating to pregnancy and birth, I believed that I was still well read and knowledgeable in the subject, and I was delighted to find that this book proved me completely and utterly wrong!
Clearly written in a lucid and highly engaging way, Jena Pincott has masterfully turned extremely complex scientific research into an easily understandable and always enjoyable book. Although it starts in a time-linear fashion, it is not necessary to read the whole book in sequence; it is perfectly possible just to dip into specific areas of interest but the reader should be warned that this is an utterly absorbing book - you may well end up cooking food with one hand whilst still clutching the book in the other and reading voraciously!
I was already aware of the research dealing with the aftermath of major famine/starvation problems affecting pregnant women's health and the health of the babies they bore. What I was not aware of was the absolutely staggering breadth and depth of knowledge which has been garnered in this area alone in the last fifteen years. Not only were the babies born during or just after famine conditions adversely affected in height and weight, both immediately and as they grew older, but it is now coming to light that even the grandchildren of these women who experienced starvation are showing definite health problems directly relating to the original womens' experiences - a phenomenon dubbed epigenetics, which has become an expanding field of study for medical researchers.
This book covers a truly huge number of topics from why pregnant women are more aware of odours from other people to why their own body odour changes in pregnancy, the importance of diet in the formation of a baby's brain, to how and why maternal stress affects the ability of babies and children to deal with stress and learn how to cope with complex situations. We learn that male babies exposed to high levels of maternal stress hormones in the womb are statistically more likely to experience learning deficits whereas girls are more likely to become anxious or depressed individuals and that baby girls born in the autumn will remain fertile for an average of eighteen months longer than those born in the spring....
There is so much information condensed and crammed into this book that it is impossible to do it justice in a review; I can only urge that if you have any interest at all in what makes humans they way they are, make yourself comfortable and prepare to be enthralled and astonished by this truly remarkable book.