Mother, Developing Fetus Share Stress
> 6/8/2007 10:34:45 AM

Before emerging into the world, a developing fetus shares everything with its mother. Now, according to research published in the May edition of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology that includes stress. Researchers have concluded that stress experienced by an expectant mother can be transferred to her unborn child through hormones across the placenta.

This new research suggests that the stress hormone, known as cortisol, while useful in short term, stressful situations can have unforeseen effects on an unborn child who undergoes prolonged exposure. Conducted by researchers from the Imperial College in London and Park Hospital in Berkshire, the study measured the cortisol levels of 267 expectant mothers. While previous research has examined the connection between mother and intrauterine child, this new data is one of the first to show that a mother�s stress level may directly impact the developing baby.

Speaking�to Women's Health News, one research associated with the study, Dr Pampa Sarkar, said:

�Our research shows that the fetus is exposed to cortisol in the maternal blood, and we also demonstrated that at and above 17 weeks, the cortisol in amniotic fluid had a strong positive relationship with cortisol in maternal blood. We found that the strength of this correlation became stronger with increasing gestational age.

We now need to carry out further work to unravel the mechanisms by which maternal stress affects the fetus, both during fetal life and through into childhood. We do not wish to unduly worry pregnant women. It should be remembered that one of the best ways for people to avoid general stress is to lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle."

We�ve previously looked at the effects of maternal stress after the birth of a child, but this new link has even broader implications. Further research will certainly be necessary to determine what if any consequences the exposure to cortisol may have on a fetus. In the meantime, as Sarkar said, this research should not cause expectant mothers undue worry. Stress is a normal part of any healthy life, but hopefully new study will help us better understand how and why unusual stress levels effect a developing child.

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