It is increasingly established that maternal stress during pregnancy can affect fetal and child development, as well as birth results. Now a new study of researchers from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the University of Columbia Vagelos and Presbyterian Hospital of New York has now identified the types of physical and psychological stress that can affect the most, as published in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) ‘.
“The uterus is a first influential home, as important as the one in which a child is raised, if not more – highlights the study leader, Catherine Monk, Professor of Medical Psychology at the University of Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons Columbia and director of Women’s Mental Health in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Irving Medical Center, New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Because stress can manifest itself in different ways, both as a subjective experience and in physical and lifestyle measurements, Monk and his colleagues examined 27 indicators of psychosocial, physical and lifestyle stress collected from questionnaires, diaries and assessments. Daily physicals of 187 healthy pregnant women, 18 to 45 years.
About 17% (32) of the women were psychologically stressed, with clinically significant high levels of depression, anxiety and perceived stress. Another 16% (30) were physically stressed, with a relatively higher daily blood pressure and higher caloric intake compared to other healthy pregnant women. The majority (almost 67%, or 125) had a healthy state.
The study suggested that pregnant women experiencing physical and psychological stress are less likely to have a child. On average, about 105 men are born for every 100 female births. But in this study, the sex ratio in the groups with physical and psychological stress favored girls, with proportions of men to women of 4: 9 and 2: 3, respectively.
“Other researchers have seen this pattern after social upheavals, such as the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, after which the relative number of male births declined,” Monk recalls.
“It is likely that this stress in women is of a prolonged nature – he adds -; studies have shown that men are more vulnerable to adverse prenatal settings, suggesting that very stressed women may be less likely to give birth to a male due to the loss of previous male pregnancies, often without even knowing they were pregnant. “
In addition, mothers with physical stress, with higher blood pressure and caloric intake, were more likely to give birth prematurely than mothers without stress.
Among mothers with physical stress, the fetuses had reduced the coupling of heart rate and movement, an indicator of a slower development of the central nervous system, compared to mothers without stress.
At the same time, mothers with psychological stress had more birth complications than mothers with physical stress.
The researchers also found that what most differentiated the three groups was the amount of social support a mother received from friends and family. For example, the more social support a mother receives, the greater the likelihood of having a baby boy.
When social support was statistically balanced in all groups, the effects of stress on preterm birth disappeared.
“The detection of depression and anxiety are gradually becoming a routine part of prenatal practice,” Monk notes. “But although our study was small, the results suggest that improving social support is potentially an effective target for clinical intervention “.
According to the researchers, it is estimated that 30% of pregnant women report psychosocial stress due to work strain or related to depression and anxiety. Such stress has been associated with an increased risk of preterm birth, which is related to higher rates of infant mortality and physical and mental disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety, among children.
The study did not examine how a mother’s mental state could specifically affect the fetus. “We know from animal studies that exposure to high levels of stress can raise stress hormone levels such as cortisol in the uterus, which in turn can affect the fetus,” says Monk.
“Stress can also affect the mother’s immune system, which leads to changes that affect the neurological and behavioral development in the fetus,” he continues. “What is clear from our study