When a woman is pregnant, the child in her body can be affected by many of her actions. Nutrition, substance abuse, domestic violence and even music can all have an impact -- whether positive or negative -- on her unborn child. Prenatal activities can influence children's weight gain, brain development, language skills and behavior. In some cases, the effects can be lifelong.
Nutrition is very important during pregnancy. During World War II, many people in Holland experienced famine conditions, according to the European Food Information Council. A EUFIC-cited long-term study of Dutch famine survivors found that women who were pregnant during the famine were more likely to have children who developed obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease as adults. In addition, those infants who experienced famine conditions during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy were more likely to have a preference for fatty foods and to be less physically active as adults. EUFIC also notes that including omega-3 fats in the diet during pregnancy protects children from asthma.
Prenatal substance exposure and abuse is a serious problem and has been studied since the 1960s, according to a March 2013 article in “Pediatrics.” Nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, opiates, cocaine and methamphetamine are the drugs most commonly abused by pregnant women, with an overall prevalence rate of 4.4 percent in 2009 to 2010. Among pregnant 15- to 17-year-olds, however, the rate was 16.2 percent. Prenatal alcohol abuse causes poor growth in infants and children. Other problems include impulsivity and attention problems in children exposed to nicotine and opiates while in utero, as well as deficits in problem-solving skills and subtle deficits in memory and learning in children exposed to marijuana. Maternal alcohol and cocaine use cause language deficits in children.
Domestic violence affects children of all ages as well as their mothers. Futures Without Violence, a national domestic violence prevention organization, reports that children born to abused mothers are 17 percent more likely to be born underweight and more than 30 percent more likely to require neonatal intensive care, possibly because an abused woman is 30 percent more likely to deliver preterm. Maternal stress during pregnancy -- such as that which occurs in a domestic violence situation -- can affect the developing fetal brain, according to an article in the November 2010 issue of “Research to Policy,” a publication of the Urban Child Institute.
Exposure to music during pregnancy influences the behavior of a newborn child, according to a November 2011 article in the “International Journal of Pediatrics.” Mothers between the ages of 19 and 29 who were in the first 20 weeks of their first pregnancy received standardized prenatal care and listened to prerecorded music for approximately one hour each day. A control group received exactly the same prenatal care but did not listen to music. On the first or second day after delivery, the infants were scored using a scale called the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale, which measures interactive behavior in infants. The children born to mothers who had listened to music scored higher on the BNBAS.