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Begin Before Birth

Reproductive Researchers Reach Wide Audience with New Interactive Web site

by Walker Karraa, MFA, MA

Researchers from the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Imperial College London have produced a multi-disciplinary, multimedia Web site called Begin Before Birth dedicated to educating women, partners, care providers, and students about the impact of environment on fetal development. Professor Vivette Glover, professor of perinatal psychobiology, leads the research team who developed this site.

We have known for a long time that how we turn out depends on both our genes and our environment. What we now realize is that the influence of the environment begins in the womb, and how the mother feels during pregnancy can change this environment and can have a lasting effect on the development of her child.

The site is beautifully designed and one of the best I have seen in terms of content, links, videos and resources. It is extremely easy to use, well-constructed, and visually stimulating. What is extraordinary about this site is the accessibility and scope of the content, the crystal clear presentation of facts, and the reach to care providers and mothers alike—in addition to a comprehensive section dedicated to school curriculum and students of all ages interested in fetal programming, fetal development, and epigenetics.

I was first drawn to the Pregnancy section and its three subpages. The Mother’s Wellbeing discusses importance of nutrition, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and highlights the importance of a mother’s psychological and emotional well-being during pregnancy. The tone is reassuring for mothers and partners, and the content clearly and succinctly written, with links to a short educational video What happens in the womb can last a lifetime, illustrating early fetal development that features Professor Glover, one of the pre-eminent scholars in the field of perinatal psychiatry and fetal development.

The What can help page offers artfully presented and clear information for how a woman may assess her mood and stress during pregnancy, and how to approach discussing symptoms with her care provider. Links to resource organizations and online support groups are provided.

Finally, Stress in Pregnancy provides definitions of types of stress and the effects of stress shown in research. The site presents difficult topics in clear yet assuring language. There is information on how stress is measured, and differences between anxiety and depression are discussed along with a description of the body’s response to stress.

The In the Womb section presents accurate educational materials on the mechanisms of fetal programming, and fetal development including a good description of the work by David Barker and accessible visual aids. The Baby and Child page explains the effect of stress on the baby and child, including risks of long-term developmental and behavioral problems. Father, family & friends underscores the importance of partner and family support in mitigating stress for a pregnant woman, as well as the need for employers to consider minimizing stress by making workloads lighter and flexible.

As the reader moves down the site, the material becomes more directed to the care provider and student researcher. The Insights from the Past section reviews historical perspectives of the effects of mothers’ emotional state on fetal development. The Science component of the site breaks down the scientific and theoretical literature within study of evolution, epigenetics, placenta and fetal brain, and evidence from animal-based research. Citations are given throughout, with links. The Implications section provides still a deeper personal and qualitative understanding of the effects of perinatal stress in Charlie’s Story and accompanying video through which a case study of a 19-year-old young man whose mother suffered severe perinatal stress is poignantly captured. Policy tools and examples for preconception and early intervention programs include the Nurse Family Partnership and links to the published papers from the NFP.

Mothers, midwives, health care providers, childbirth educators, policy makers, and students would benefit tremendously from the information on this site. I look forward to hearing how you may incorporate the multifaceted site into your practice.

Walker Karraa, MFA, MA is a doctoral student at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology/Sofia University where she is researching transformational dimensions of postpartum depression. Walker holds an MA in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University/Seattle, and both MFA and BA degrees in dance from UCLA. Walker is a contributor for Lamaze International's Science and Sensibility, Giving Birth With Confidence, and ACNM’s Midwife Connection. She is currently working on co-authoring a book on PTSD following childbirth with Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, PhD, IBCLC, FAPA, and works as Social Media Manager for Integral Leadership Review. Walker lives in Sherman Oaks, CA with her two children and husband.

Posted 9/29/2012 1:22:37 PM



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