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Maternal epigenetic responsibility: What can we learn from the pandemic?

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ilke TurkmendagORCiD, Ying-Qi Liaw



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


This paper examines the construction of maternal responsibility in transgenerational epigenetics and its implications for pregnant women. Transgenerational epigenetics is suggesting a link between maternal behaviour and lifestyle during pregnancy and the subsequent well-being of their children. For example, poor prenatal diet and exposure to maternal distress during pregnancy are linked to epigenetic changes, which may cause health problems in the offspring. In this field, the uterus is seen as a micro-environment in which new generations can take shape. Because epigenetics concerns how gene expression is influenced by the social realm, including a range of environmental conditions such as stress, diet, smoking, exercise, exposure to chemicals, pollution, and environmental hazards, the research findings in this area have direct policy relevance. For policy makers, rather than controlling this complex range of determinants of health, isolating and targeting maternal body and responsibilising mothers for the control of this micro-environment might seem feasible. Yet, examining the maternal body in isolation as a powerful environment to shape the health of next generations not only responsibilises women for the environment that they cannot control but also makes them a target for intrusive and potentially exploitative biomedical interventions. Even though ‘social factors’ are increasingly considered in epigenetics writing, the phrase is usually taken as self-explanatory without much elaboration. Drawing on the Covid-19 pandemic, this paper moves the current debate forward by providing consolidated examples of how individuals, including pregnant women, have little control over their environment and lifestyle. As evidenced by the pandemic’s disproportionate effects on people with low socioeconomic or poor health status, some pregnant women bore considerable physical and psychological stress which combined with other stress factors such as domestic violence.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Turkmendag I, Liaw Ying-Qi

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

Year: 2022

Pages: Epub ahead of print

Online publication date: 15/06/2022

Acceptance date: 11/05/2022

Date deposited: 12/05/2022

ISSN (print): 1386-7423

ISSN (electronic): 1572-8633

Publisher: Springer Netherlands


DOI: 10.1007/s11019-022-10094-z


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Funder referenceFunder name
Newcastle University’s Faculty Research Funding