Do epigenetics blame mothers too much?



In her new book, science historian Sarah Richardson suggests that epigenetic studies implicitly emphasize the influence mothers can have during pregnancy on inherited traits from their children.

What there is to know:

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

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

  • In the book, she examines theories throughout history on the contribution of mothers versus fathers to inherited traits, citing a belief among some eugenics at the turn of the 20th century who believed that a mother’s mental state during pregnancy could be imprinted on her child.

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

  • According to Richardson, societal biases that place undue responsibility on mothers in determining children’s health lead to an overestimation of epigenetic studies, even in the absence of solid data.

This is a summary of the article “Are Mothers Too Easy to Blame” published by Nature on November 8th. The full article is available on



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