Most advice given to parents is not scientifically validated, in the strict experimental sense. Suggestions are usually based on current customs, on scientific theories, and on practical everyday experience gathered through working with childbearing women. Such advice has been and will continue to be helpful to expectant parents. Of even greater importance. however, is information that is the result of experimental tests. Advice based on such tests can be accepted with an extra measure of confidence because it is derived from controlled experimental studies that can give clear indications of actual cause and effect. There are two great experiments that expectant parents especially need to know about. One is in the field of physical health and the other is in the field of mental health.
They studied the effect of giving extra food to impoverished mothers who had been on poor diets. Every other mother was assigned to a special program of receiving added foods. Every day each of these mothers had thirty ounces of milk, one egg. and one orange delivered to her home. Once a week she received, in addition, two one•pound cans of tomatoes and one-half a pound of cheddar cheese. When she came to the clinic, she was given a
special palatable dried wheat germ with malt and iron and was urged to take two tablespoonful daily. Vitamin D capsules were supplied also.
The expectant mothers were advised in detail about using the extra food, and were also instructed on how to fill out the nutritional requirements of their diets with foods that could be bought with the family income, small as it might be. The other poor-diet, low-income mothers were not so fortunate. They were left on their usual diets with no attempt made to change them. To offset the possible psychological factor in pill giving, they did get capsules with plain corn oil instead of the capsules containing vitamin 1D. Strenuous efforts were made to make sure that the supplemented group of mothers actually did receive a different diet in keeping with experimental plans. Home visits were made by social workers to look into the use of donated foods.
At the time of delivery• chemical blood tests revealed the results of the difference in diets. The vitamin C level of the blood was much higher for the supplemented mothers than for those left on their poor diets. The differences in the health of the mothers and babies in the two groups was startling. The obstetrician who rated the mothers’ progress did not know to which group the mothers belonged. Yet four times as many of the poor•diet mothers were considered to have serious health problems in pregnancy when compared to the mothers whose diets were supplemented with extra nutritious foods.
The poor-diet group had seven times as many threatened miscarriages and three times as many stillbirths. Their labors were recorded as lasting about five hours longer. After delivery they had almost twice as many breast infections, three times as many uterine infections• and were much more likely to stop breast-feeding early. Definite psychological changes were also observed. The researchers state, “We noted a marked improvement in the general mental attitude of the patients in the Supplemented Group: many of them lost their minor aches and pains and no longer had numerous complaints.
” The babies were followed for six months after delivery. The babies whose mothers had the food supplements appeared to have benefited even more than their mothers did from nutritional changes experimentally introduced. Babies of poor-diet mothers had more bronchitis, pneumonia, rickets, and anemia. Less than a quarter as many babies whose mothers had received supplemental foods were reported as being subject to “frequent colds.” It was in the poor-diet group that the only deaths occurred.