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Healthy From the Very Start

LIFE IN THE WOMB: The Origin of Health and Disease; Peter W. Nathanielsz; Promethean Press; $27.50; 363 pages

May 17, 1999|SHARI ROAN

The growth of the fetus during gestation is an astonishing process that is only recently becoming more understood. Science has revealed that there are key periods during gestation when a particular organ may be more susceptible to damage, for example. And there is evidence that viruses can attack a fetus and leave a time bomb that explodes as a disease later in life.

This new book by Cornell University scientist Dr. Peter Nathanielsz suggests that fetal development is even more complex than had been imagined. Although there is not enough proof to support the entire range of his theories, Nathanielsz argues that what goes on during gestation is as important as genetic heritage to lifelong health. He describes the process as "programming."

"A better understanding of the nature of normal development of the fetus in the womb and the consequences of a suboptimal prenatal environment is the very frontier of knowledge of the origins of health and disease," he writes.

This is not a how-to book for pregnant women. In fact, pregnant women who worry excessively about the progress of their fetuses should probably avoid reading it. Still, Nathanielsz makes a strong case for being more vigilant in protecting the health of the baby while it's still in the womb.

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