Scientists have discovered evidence that pregnant women who are under a large amount of stress may predispose their child to struggle to deal with stress themselves, or to suffer from behavioral problems or mental illness.
Scientists will now repeat the study on a larger group of volunteers, to verify the findings. Photo via SXC.HU.
The findings come from a small study of 25 women and their children, who they monitored from conception to between 10 and 19 years old. The women involved in the study all had what was described as ‘exceptional’ home situations, putting them under a large amount of stress everyday – much more then the average woman would be under.
Scientists say that although they cannot rule out a child’s social background as causing an impact, they believe the child’s first environment – the womb- is likely to have the biggest impact. Studying the genes of both mother and baby, they noticed that some of the children had changes to the Glucocorticoid Receptor, the gene responsible for regulating the body’s hormonal response to stress. Gene alteration such as this one most often occur inside the womb.
Most of the mothers in the study had been living with domestic violence, and it appears that this very high level of stress then causes the change to the GR gene, which means their children are more sensitive to stress – they will respond to it, mentally and hormonally, much faster then other children. This can affect the personality, too, with these children being more likely to be impulsive and struggle to control their emotions.
The study now appears in the Translational Psychiatry Journal, and investigators plan to carry out a much bigger study.
A scientist at the Institute of Psychiatry responded; “This paper confirms that the early foundation years start at minus nine months. Pregnancy is uniquely sensitive to a challenging maternal psychosocial environment – much more then, for example, after the baby is born. As we and others have been advocating, addressing maternal stress and depression in pregnancy is a, clinically and socially, important strategy.”
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