This week (one month before my due date) the midwife told me that the baby would be “fine” if she were born now.  “But there’s still a lot more brain development for her to do,” I pointed out.

“She would be fine,” the midwife repeated.  I decided to drop the issue.

Here’s the length of pregnancy (40 weeks being standard) mapped against children’s IQ at age 6.5:

iq and gestational age


I appreciate that the midwife was trying to allay any fears I had, but it sure looks like there are variations on “fine.”  This  graph also makes me less sure about the “induction isn’t necessary, birth will happen when it’s meant to happen” rhetoric and more worried about a post-mature baby.  (One danger with inducement being that if you’re wrong about your conception date, you end up with a premature baby instead of a post-mature one.)

I heard the same kind of thought process early in the pregnancy when I was going to a techno contra dance.  I debated whether to draw on my skin with highlighter, like I usually do (the ink glows under the blacklights).  I doubt highlighters are all that toxic, but I also doubt anyone has tested the effects of maternal skin absorption of fluorescent yellow ink on a fetus. “I’m sure it will be fine,” someone said.  And she was right, in the sense that my baby wouldn’t come out with three heads or any other symptoms that would make us say, “It was the highlighter.”  But little things can add up.

There is not some cutoff for when a baby (or a child, or an adult) is “fine.”  We all have our glitches, and some glitches are bigger than others.

You can’t avoid all risk, and for the sake of your sanity you have to consider some things “good enough.”  But your choices — like “Should I have labor induced?” or “Should we renovate our house, which is full of lead paint, while living with young children?”  — really do have effects.


10 thoughts on “Fine?

  1. Assistant Village Idiot

    But if the graph does not take induction versus natural labor into account, it may not tell you anything. Baby X may have an IQ of 103 whether she is induced or whether she comes along naturally a week later. To make an analogy: blondes have more hairs on their head. But lightening one’s hair does not create more follicles.

    1. Julia Post author

      True. The study doesn’t say they controlled for that, so probably some of the babies had induced labors.

      But it would be weird if babies with lower IQs just happened to be the ones that were early or late. Unless the deciding factor is not baby’s IQ but something else, like maternal IQ, and lower maternal IQ somehow makes you more likely to decide to induce early or not at all.

      1. gwern

        > But it would be weird if babies with lower IQs just happened to be the ones that were early or late.

        Could be a common cause: developmental abnormalities force an early birth, or bar a normally-timed birth.

    1. Julia Post author

      Could be. We know of lots of factors that can cause premature birth, but we don’t really know what causes postmaturity. And we do have a clear causal model for why postmaturity is bad for the fetus (the placenta breaking down, not enough amniotic fluid, greater chance of inhaling meconium). So my guess is that postmaturity is much more likely to be causing the problems than problems with the baby (or problems with mother correlated with problems with baby) are to be causing the post-maturity.

  2. Assistant Village Idiot

    I referenced you and an earlier post over at my site. I suspect you have your hands full at the moment, but wanted you to know that someone in NH remembered you have a blog and make worthwhile comments.
    Praying that you and baby are okay.

  3. Susan

    Interesting topic for a post–thanks for sharing. Unless I am reading it wrong, it seems like the I.Q. scores in the study you reference differ at most by 5 points, which as long as the score is within the average range, does not seem a significant difference to me. I probably would have gone crazy trying to evaluate all the possible risks to the developing fetus if I were pregnant. Lucky for me, both my kids were adopted! 😉

    1. Julia Post author

      True, all those scores are within average range. But I’m going to quote Scott’s Biodeterminist’s Guide to Parenting here:

      “Most people don’t have a good intuitive feel for IQ. Just to help calibrate how much you should care about these, each extra IQ point is associated with about a 2% increase in lifetime earnings and a 2% increase in worker productivity. A 15 to 20 point rise in IQ, which is a little more than you get from supplementing iodine in an iodine-deficient region, is associated with half the chance of living in poverty, going to prison, or being on welfare, and with only one-fifth the chance of dropping out of high-school (“associated with” does not mean “causes”). The average IQ of a janitor is 92, the average of a doctor is 120, and the average of a Nobel Prize winner is 144. Because of the way standard deviations work, raising IQ by 10 points (a little less than the size of the iodine effect) sextuples (multiplies by six) the chance of having IQ > 140 and therefore in Nobel Prize territory.”

      But to further quote him:
      “…there is a known failure mode where parents obsess over every possible parenting tip, feel like they are a horrible person unless they get every single one right, and eventually go insane. Please don’t do this: elevated maternal levels of the stress hormone cortisol impede fetal brain development and can cause a three to five point drop in IQ (1, 2). But seriously: this is not worth your sanity and if statistics like the preceding are likely to be triggers for you please stop reading this document; the tiny adjustments it might or might not be able to produce aren’t worth it.”

  4. Pingback: Fine? - Otherwise


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