10 Things Science Says About Being A Mom In 2014

Among them: she usually underestimates the height of her youngest child and her diet when she conceives could change her offspring’s DNA.

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You might think that by now we would know everything there is to know about being a mother. But each year scientists discover more about how much they influence our lives.

Here are some of the things we've learned on this very special subject since last Mother's Day.

1) You are what your mom eats:  The kind of diet a woman is following when she gets pregnant may actually affect her child’s DNA. So concludes a study published last month in the journal Nature Communications, which found that children conceived by rural Gambian women during the rainy season—when they eat more leafy green vegetables high in folates—had more changes in their DNA than those conceived during the dry season. It's the first research to suggest that a human mother’s nutritional state at conception can permanently change her baby’s genes.

2) A shoutout to downward dog:  A high level of stress during pregnancy has been shown to have many potential consequences, from premature birth to child behavioral problems or depression later in life for the mother.  But a study in the U.K. recommends a simple way to avoid it: yoga.  Though it’s long been thought that yoga can help reduce stress for pregnant women, now it’s  actually been tested in a research setting at Manchester and Newcastle universities. Scientists found the pregnant women who attended at least one yoga class a week for eight weeks as part of the trial had lower scores on anxiety tests compared to those in the control group, who receieved traditional prenatal treatment.

3) Mom power: Companies doing market research should make a point of focusing on moms who spend a lot of time on social networks, according to the recommendation of an Australian team of researchers. They say that not only do mothers frequently discuss products online, but they generally develop a high level of trust among one another—and that makes word-of-mouth recommendations among moms on social networks one of the most powerful market sources at work today.

4)  Blame Mom, Part I:  Long before they’re introduced to candy and soda, babies can start developing cavities in their teeth—and according to new research published in Pediatrics, their moms could have something to do with it. The lower the level of vitamin D in a woman’s system during her pregnancy, the higher the number of cavities her child would have as an infant, the study determined.

5)  Blame Mom, Part II: A Yale University study published earlier this year suggested women who consume a high-fat diet during their third trimester may be predisposing their children to obesity and diabetes.  Research found that the offspring of female mice that were fed high-fat diets tended to develop “abnormal neuronal connections” in the hypothalamus of their brains—the region responsible for regulation of metabolism. 

6) Don’t worry, be happy: Even though their lives can often be more difficult, single moms are no less happy then married ones, according to a study of moms in Poland published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Happiness. That country was chosen not only because it's a place where having children out of wedlock is socially unacceptable, but also because it has one of the weaker public child care systems in the European Union, meaning that single moms largely raise their children on their own. Nonetheless, based on face-to-face interviews with single mothers, along with analysis of data collected from more than 7,600 mothers, the researchers concluded that because single moms often made important life decisions for the sake of their child, they felt more empowered, had a greater sense of responsibility and in many cases were able to “escape pathological environments.” 

7) Do as I say: Adolescents often mimic their mothers when it comes to how they relate to their friendssomething that's particularly true in the negative part of those relationships,  researchers at the University of Missouri say. If teenagers see that their mother has a lot of conflict in her personal relationships, they’re more likely to view that as acceptable behavior in their own friendships, according to the study.  Since they’re going to be viewed as role models by their adolescent children in such matters, mothers “should talk to with their children about how to act with their friends, but more specifically, how not to act,” according to the researchers' recommendations. 

8) Mommy’s Home:  A recent Pew Research report found that the percentage of stay-at-home moms in the U.S. has been rising since the turn of the 21st century.  Based on analysis of government data, researchers determined that about 29 percent of American mothers didn’t work outside the home in 2012; in 1999, that number was 23 percent. The increase reflects a departure from a steady decline in the number of stay-at-home moms during the last three decades of the 20th century. The report says the increase is at least in part due to rising immigration and a weak jobs market.  About two-thirds of the country’s 10.4 million stay-at-home moms in 2012 were in “traditional”  situations, defined as living with a husband who worked outside the home.

9) Whither the Tiger Mom?:  There just may be something to the Tiger Mother theory that purports Asian-American children excel in school because of their demanding mothers. Research published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that it’s not socioeconomic status nor greater intellect that’s the biggest reason for Asian-American students' academic success.  No, said lead researchers Amy Hsin and Yu Xie: the key factor is one powerful work ethic.  The pair analyzed two national surveys that collected data on a combined more than 5,000 white and Asian students from kindergarten to high school and found that the latter’s higher level of achievement came down to the simple fact that, according to their teachers, Asian-American students worked harder.  While Tiger Mothers no doubt play a role, the researchers suggested that a greater influence is a community that’s big on sharing social resources that enhance the education of its children.

10) Thinking small:  This probably won’t come as a surprise, but moms tend to think their youngest child is shorter than he or she actually is. In a study published in Current Biology, researchers found that mothers typically underestimated the height of their youngest child by about 3 inches, but accurately estimated the heights of their older children. The Australian researchers also reported that 70 percent of the more than 700 mothers in the study said they noticed that their youngest child seemed bigger when a new baby was born in the family.  The scientists think this reflects the need of moms to nurture and protect their most vulnerable offspring.

No question that you owe a lot to dear old mom, but this goes both ways. Science also says that being a mother has made her smarter since the day you were born.

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