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Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives Paperback – July 5, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Science writer Paul (The Cult of Personality) segues between pondering her own second pregnancy and the developing literature on fetal origins in this fascinating study of the prenatal period, what one scientist calls the staging ground for well-being and disease in later life. Drawing upon current research and interviews with experts in this burgeoning field, Paul explores such varied topics as diet and nutrition, stress, environmental toxins, exercise, and alcohol use. She cites some frightening if by now familiar discoveries, such as the existence of 200 industrial chemicals that can be found in babies' umbilical cords, as well as some unusual findings, such as the discovery that women who consumed a daily dose of chocolate during their pregnancies gave birth to babies who smiled more at six months. She also exposes links between low birth weight and later cardiovascular disease, and muses upon the possibility that a dietary supplement might one day protect future children from cancer. As the author delves deeply into the vulnerabilities of the prenatal environment, she comes away with a compelling sense of the importance of how society cares for and supports pregnant women. Focusing on how to minimize harm and maximize benefit during the nine months before birth, Paul's thought-provoking text reveals that this pivotal period may be even more significant and far-reaching than ever imagined.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

As she progresses through her own pregnancy, science writer Paul, author of The Cult of Personality (2004), gracefully tells the story of gestation in nine chapters—one for each of the nine months that the fetus spends in the womb. This is an artificial conceit. Although she does sprinkle anecdotes (which readers may or may not enjoy) about her own experience in the approproprite chapters, she randomly covers the history of medical theories about prenatal development in the one-month chapter and the perils of plastics at the four-month mark. The book is well written and researched, but it would been more effective if it were organized by topic. That way, readers could easily find out more about, say, David Barker’s research that found babies who weighed less at birth had a higher risk of heart disease in middle age. Inexplicably, this is in the two-month chapter. Why wouldnt it go in nine months, when most babies are born? Still, Paul’s book is a useful, if not essential, addition to any pregnancy library. --Karen Springen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (July 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074329663X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743296632
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #255,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

110 of 119 people found the following review helpful By Kaeli Vandertulip on January 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I should start this review by explaining what I hope for from a popular-interest science book. I expect an explanation of a theory, discovery, or scientific concept which is accurate, fun to read, well-cited (with citations to scholarly publications so I can read them too), and well-written. I appreciate a little humor, too. Some experiential asides are fine with me, but I don't want to read an autobiography. I prefer my authors to have a science or medical background, but this is not a requirement; I love Mary Roach after all.
I was incredibly excited to read Origins. I'm currently pregnant and love reading and researching all of the odd things that happen, all the dictates given by doctors, and I'm fascinated by the history of pregnancy and childbirth. I was the first one in my library to check this out (mainly because the tech services people moved this book to the front of the line for me and gave it to me as soon as they were done).
Unfortunatly, Annie Murphy Hall falls far short of my expectations. Her book is 8 parts memoir, 1 part historical overview, 1 part interview recollections. I really don't care about her shopping trips to Whole Foods while she was pregnant. I am curious about the mercury in fish debate. Guess which got more print?
Furthermore, she is way too reliant on quotes. It was like reading a freshman's first research paper. She also falls into the same trap that drives me crazy when journalists write about science (though not all journalists)--she cites information found in newspapers and news magazines with the same level of credibility as a scholarly journal.

In short, I REALLY wanted to like this book. I love the topic and enjoyed hearing the author's interviews on NPR. But I heard far too much about her pregnancy and far too little about how pregnancy effects us before we're even born.
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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Amy on February 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I had several major issues with this book, where Ann Murphy Paul, in attempting to illustrate all the ways the fetus is impacted by the mother's actions and environment during pregnancy. First of all, she is a journalist writing about science. This is not to say that one must be a trained scientist only in order to write about anything scientific, but I often found myself questioning her methods. She gives the same weight to newspaper articles as published journals, and I often wondered how much of her research she did based off of google searches.

However, what bothered me most was her narrow-minded and somewhat blinded approach. She is an upper-class white woman who is educated and has access to top-of-the line pre-natal care, something which she seems to rub in constantly in her book. She can not separate her research from her own pregnancy, and her bias is made even more evident by her intentionality in doing everything she possibly can to avoid anything potentially harmful to her child. She describes meandering through the isles of Whole Foods, going to yoga classes and meditations, taking her folate and avoiding mercury-rich fish, tossing all of the BPA plastics out of her kitchen, avoiding any and all medications etc, in order to have the smartest and healthiest child she can. But she can not escape her own hypocrisy. She launches into the history of gender prediction, and seems to glorify the ultrasound as an actual window into her womb to see and "know" her unborn baby. Her unwillingness to question the process of ultrasound and its safety is entirely absent. Ironic for a book about how a fetus' experience in utero can have lasting impact. The truth is, though we believe ultrasounds to be safe, we truly don't know whether they are safe.
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96 of 115 people found the following review helpful By Nora Alexander on November 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book immediately after TIME Magazine featured it on its cover, because Ms. Paul's title asserted itself as an authority over this much needed topic. As someone who is in her early 30's and is planning to have children in the near future, I thought this book would offer in depth specifics that could help any woman give birth to a healthy baby. To her credit, Ms. Paul does cite key tips that every expecting mother should be doing to ensure a healthy child: take Folic acid and other B vitamins, exercise, reduce stress levels, eat breakfast every day, and stay mindful of the food one consumes. Moreover, she cites a few scientists and doctors who are in the process of making novel discoveries about how we can prevent birth defects and other illness that occur after birth. Ms. Paul also cities several historical events that reinforce the idea that childbirth is actually a collective effort hinging on a nation's efforts to provide basic needs. Without these provisions, children are unlikely to become productive citizens or even have the chance to live to adulthood. For this much, I think the book is a good start; however, I find much of the writing lacking in two major areas.

I understand that it's an easier read to blend her own experience as a soon-to-be mother; but as she shares her life with us, I am often reminded of her privilege as a Upper-West-Side New Yorker that allows her to make choices (often purely emotional) to ensure the health of her child while many mothers in the US (and even within New York City) can't afford to make. What's troubling about this aspect of the writing - for example - is that she'll clear her kitchen of BPA plastic products because she moved by one researcher's findings on BPA.
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