Nav: Home

Prenatal stress could affect baby's brain, say researchers

October 08, 2019

New research from King's College London has found that maternal stress before and during pregnancy could affect a baby's brain development.

In their study published in Biological Psychiatry, MRC Doctoral Researcher in Perinatal Imaging and Health, Alexandra Lautarescu and Head of Advanced Neuroimaging, Professor Serena Counsell, for the first time looked at the relationship between maternal stress and brain development in 251 premature babies.

They found evidence for impaired development of a white matter tract, the uncinate fasciculus, in babies whose mothers experienced more stress in the prenatal period.

The mothers completed a questionnaire which asked them about their experiences of stressful events, which ranged from everyday stress such as moving house or taking an exam to more severe stressors like experiencing bereavement, separation or divorce. A score of severity of stress was calculated based on how many stressors they experienced as well as how severe those stressors were. This is what was related to the baby's brain. The researchers used a medical imaging technique called diffusion tensor imaging that was specifically developed to look at the structure of the white matter. The white matter tract has previously been implicated in anxiety disorders - adults that have an anxiety disorder may show changes in this tract.

"We found that in the mums that were more stressed during pregnancy and the period before birth, white matter was altered in the babies," said lead researcher Alexandra Lautarescu from King's College London.

Scientists say the study highlights the importance of providing support for expectant mothers, as previous studies have shown that interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy can help mitigate adverse outcomes in the baby. Clinicians have an important role to play when speaking with expectant mothers. While questions are asked about depressive symptoms, few questions are asked about general stress and anxiety. Women who deal with stressful life events during pregnancy are not picked up by their GPs or by their health care providers very often.

"It is not diagnosed as often as it should be during pregnancy and we are trying to emphasise that maternal mental health during pregnancy can impact the baby's brain development which may impact on their outcomes later in life," Alexandra Lautarescu said. "No one is asking these women about stress and hence they don't receive any support.

"Antenatal services need to be aware that it is important to think about stress of the mums and we need to have some kind of support there for the mums who identify that they are stressed. If we try to help these women either during the pregnancy or in the early post-natal period with some sort of intervention this will not only help the mother, but may also prevent impaired brain development in the baby and improve their outcomes overall."

There is some evidence to suggest that if mothers experience poor mental health during pregnancy that leads to adverse outcomes in the baby - obstetric outcomes, lower birth weight or premature birth. A mother's poor mental health may also lead to altered early behavior such as more frequent crying.

Further studies are needed to understand whether the observed changes in the brain development of these babies will lead to adverse outcomes later in life.
-end-


King's College London

Related Stress Articles:

Stress in the powerhouse of the cell
University of Freiburg researchers discover a new principle -- how cells protect themselves from mitochondrial defects.
Measuring stress around cells
Tissues and organs in the human body are shaped through forces generated by cells, that push and pull, to ''sculpt'' biological structures.
Cellular stress at the movies
For the first time, biological imaging experts have used a custom fluorescence microscope and a novel antibody tagging tool to watch living cells undergoing stress.
Maternal stress at conception linked to children's stress response at age 11
A new study published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease finds that mothers' stress levels at the moment they conceive their children are linked to the way children respond to life challenges at age 11.
A new way to see stress -- using supercomputers
Supercomputer simulations show that at the atomic level, material stress doesn't behave symmetrically.
Beware of evening stress
Stressful events in the evening release less of the body's stress hormones than those that happen in the morning, suggesting possible vulnerability to stress in the evening.
How plants cope with stress
With climate change comes drought, and with drought comes higher salt concentrations in the soil.
Gene which decreases risk of social network-related stress, increases finance-related stress risk
Researchers have discovered that the same gene which increases your risk of depression following financial stress as you grow older also reduces your chance of depression associated with friendship and relationships stresses when young- your social network.
Innate stress
A team of researchers from the Higher School of Economics and the RAS Vavilov Institute of General Genetics has been able to statistically monitor the impact of the monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA) on the subjective evaluation of well-being among men.
Is a stress shot on the horizon?
Rats immunized weekly for three weeks with beneficial bacteria showed increased levels of anti-inflammatory proteins in the brain, more resilience to the physical effects of stress, and less anxiety-like behavior.
More Stress News and Stress Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.