Does Epigenetics Place Too Much Blame on Mothers?

By Medscape Staff

November 08, 2021

In her new book, historian of science Sarah Richardson suggests that studies in epigenetics implicitly overemphasize the influence mothers can have in pregnancy on their children's inherited traits.

What to know:

  • Can traumatic experiences during pregnancy create epigenetic changes that can be passed from mothers on to their children?

  • In The Maternal Imprint: The Contested Science of Maternal-Fetal Effects, Sarah Richardson, PhD, argues that our assumptions about maternal responsibility cause us to place too much weight on the idea of epigenetic inheritance from mothers.

  • In the book, she examines theories throughout history about how much mothers vs fathers contribute to inherited traits, citing a belief among some eugenicists in the turn of the 20th century who believed that a mother's mental state in pregnancy could be imprinted on her child.

  • She also evaluates three contemporary studies in epigenetics, including the study of Holocaust survivors passing epigenetic markers onto their children, which Richardson argues was too widely covered in the media given its small sample size and few controls.

  • According to Richardson, societal biases that place undue responsibility on mothers in determining the health of children leads to the overcrediting of epigenetic studies even when lacking robust data.

This is a summary of the article "Are mothers too easy to blame" published by Nature on November 8. The full article can be found on nature.com.

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