Medical Doctor Examines a Pregnant Woman

Stress during pregnancy could affect baby’s brain development ─Study

*Researchers say stress produces the hormone cortisol, as the study found that higher levels of cortisol can have an effect on newborn’s brain development

Alexander Davis | ConsumerConnect

For maternal health, managing stress during pregnancy is important for countless reasons.

Researchers in recent studies have found that heightened stress while pregnant can affect everything from newborns’ behaviour to their overall wellbeing.

A new study by researchers from the University of Edinburgh discovered that high levels of stress during pregnancy can affect infants’ brain development.

According to the researchers, stress produces the hormone cortisol, and the researchers found that higher levels of cortisol can have an effect on brain development.

Researcher James Boardman said: “Our findings are a call to action to detect and support pregnant women who need extra help during pregnancy as this could be an effective way of promoting healthy brain development in their babies.”

In relation to concerns related to heightened stress, and to better understand how stress during pregnancy can affect newborns’ brain development, the researchers had 78 pregnant women participate in the study.

They analysed hair samples from the women after they had given birth to analyse their cortisol levels, and they performed MRIs on the newborns to see how their brains were developing.

The study finding showed a connection between women who had the highest cortisol levels and infant brain development.

In the study, high stress during pregnancy was associated with changes in the development of the amygdala, which is responsible for producing our fear response and can also affect other social and emotional responses.

As these changes were noticeable at such a young age, the researchers worry about the effect this could have on the newborns’ emotional development throughout childhood and adolescence.

Nevertheless, the team of experts also explained that getting support for stress during pregnancy can be a great way to ensure infants’ health and wellness, and boost overall mood and mental health for pregnant women.

Rebecca Reynolds, one of the researchers, stated: “Thankfully, psychological treatments are very successful at helping mothers and children and we hope that our findings could guide therapies in future to help spot those who might be most in need of support.”

Since women prioritise their physical health during pregnancy, the researchers hope that these findings inspire pregnant women to also keep their mental wellness top of mind as well.

Researcher Sarah Brown also disclosed that “this research highlights how important it is to support women’s health during pregnancy to ensure that their needs are met and that their babies have the best start in life.

“Helping mothers cope with stress is an important step to ensure both mom and baby thrive.”

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