Stress during pregnancy can affect fetus, study finds 0
CALGARY — Anxious children may have developed a hypersensitivity to perceived threats while in their mother’s womb, new research shows.
Gerry Giesbrecht of the University of Calgary was the lead author of the study that examined if a mother’s mood during pregnancy affect levels of cortisol, a hormone linked with stress.
While cortisol is already increased significantly during pregnancy, as it also contributes to fetus development. Giesbrecht found above and beyond the typical increase in the hormone during pregnancy, mood also affected the levels.
“We now know that cortisol is at least one of the ways that moms signal to their babies the kinds of preparations they should make for post-natal life,” said Giesbrecht of the study, which followed 83 women who were between six and 37 weeks gestation by measuring cortisol levels in their saliva and collecting corresponding mood reports.
“If mom’s experiencing lots of stress and her cortisol levels are high, you’re going to conclude, as a fetus, ‘This is a challenging, stressful environment. I should design physiological systems that are really good at dealing with stressful environments,’” said Giesbrecht.
“That means being extremely alert, being very sensitive to potential dangers in the environment.”
It’s a trait that is believed to carry on into childhood, often unnecessarily, he added.
“They developed these hyper-responsive stress systems and any sort of change in the environment is then picked up and translated into a danger signal for them and they react very strongly,” he said.
Mom Fiona McCord participated in the study when she was pregnant with her son, Brik McCord Cooper, now 22 months old.
She said information like this will be useful for future moms-to-be, as it’s a stressful time to begin with, so understanding why managing that stress is important should help.
“As a pregnant woman you’re going to worry in general, you worry about the health of your baby, the health of yourself and all the things that are going to happen after the baby is born,” she said.
“I hope that it does create that road map, the road map to a healthy and happy baby so that people can be more proactive about it, about making their choices instead of having reactive measures taken after the baby is born.”