Charles Robert Cantor helped sequence the human genome, and he developed methods to non-invasively determine the genes in human fetuses. Cantor worked in the US during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. His early research focused on oligonucleotides, small molecules of DNA or RNA. That research enabled the development of a technique that Cantor subsequently used to describe nucleotide sequences of DNA, a process called sequencing, in humans. Cantor was the principal scientist for the Human Genome Project, for which scientists sequenced the entirety of the human genome in 2003. Afterwards, Cantor became the chief scientific officer for Sequenom Inc., a company that provided non-invasive prenatal genetic testing. Such tests use a pregnant woman's blood to identify genetic mutations in a fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy.
In the case Whitner v. South Carolina in 1997, the South Carolina State Supreme Court defined the concept of a child to include viable fetuses. This allowed grounds for prosecution of a pregnant womanÕs prenatal activity if those activities endangered or could potentially endanger the fetus within her. The case brought the issue of fetal rights versus pregnant womenÕs rights to light. The case also explored whether or not the conviction of a pregnant woman was in the best interest of a fetus, because fear of prosecution could lead the woman to not seek prenatal care or to seek an abortion outside of licensed clinics.
In 2008, Barranca Productions released a documentary called The Business of Being Born, detailing the topic of childbirth. Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein produced and directed the documentary. The documentary explores pregnancy related healthcare in the US, including the history of midwives and obstetrics. The film also discusses potential consequences of medicalized childbirth common in the twenty-first century. The Business of Being Born provides viewers with information about home-births, midwives, and the positive and negative aspects of going to the hospital for childbirth.
Prenatal Care is an educational booklet written by Mary Mills West of the US Children’s Bureau and published by the US Government Printing Office in 1913. The Bureau distributed West’s booklets in response to their field studies on infant mortality, which found that lack of access to accurate health and hygiene information put women and infants at greater than normal risk of death or disease. In Prenatal Care, West offers advice on nutrition, exercise, and personal hygiene during pregnancy and describes the processes of labor and birth. Soon after publication, women all over the US requested copies of Prenatal Care. Millions of copies of Prenatal Care were distributed nationally between 1921 and 1928 as part of educational programs funded by the Sheppard-Towner Act, and the infant mortality rate declined during that period.
In 2014, Big Belli, a media and social networking brand, released a documentary called 40 Weeks online. The documentary, directed by Christopher Henze, followed multiple women during their pregnancies. The film predominantly features three women, though it includes the stories of many. Throughout the film, women detail their accounts of the physical and emotional changes that occur during pregnancy. 40 Weeks provides viewers with information about different aspects of pregnancy including the importance of nutrition and hydration, knowledge about safe medications, and the possible complications that can affect a pregnant woman and her fetus.
During the twentieth century, Thomas Raphael Verny studied the way that environment affects a developing fetus’s character and psychological development. Verny studied the concept of memory before birth and covered both the prenatal and perinatal periods, meaning the time the fetus is in the womb and the weeks immediately before or after birth, respectively. During those times, Verny claimed that patterns of maternal attitudes and experiences, such as affection and stress-related emotions, impact the development of the child. Published in 1981, Verny’s book The Secret Life of the Unborn Child presented novel ideas about how pregnant women’s emotional health impacts the psychological, emotional, and physical development of their fetuses, sparking discussion about the importance of maternal emotional health during prenatal development.
In 2001, researchers Leonie Welberg and Jonathan Seckl published the literature review “Prenatal Stress, Glucocorticoids, and the Programming of the Brain,” in which they report on the effects of prenatal stress on the development of the fetal brain. The fetus experiences prenatal stress while in the womb, or in utero. In discussing the effects of prenatal stress, the authors describe prenatal programming, which is when early environmental experiences permanently alter biological structure and function throughout life. Throughout “Prenatal Stress, Glucocorticoids and the Programming of the Brain,” Welberg and Seckl provide a number of potential biological explanations, derived from both animal and human studies, to explain the underlying mechanisms involved in programming, which helped establish how in utero stress can affect fetal brain development.