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Too much stress from the mother has a negative impact on the baby
Scientific research has shown that it can have a negative impact on the unborn child if the expectant mother is under stress during pregnancy. This apparently has to do with the fact that the concentration of stress hormones in the amniotic fluid increases, as researchers have now found out.
Negative consequences for the baby
Various scientific studies have shown that stress during pregnancy can have negative consequences for the baby. For example, Australian researchers reported years ago that this can cause coordination problems among young people. An interdisciplinary team of scientists has now found clues as to how the expectant mother's stress reaches the unborn.
Increased risk of ADHD
Expectant mothers often have the feeling that they are constantly under power, that they always have to take care of everything and do not have to bring everything under one roof. This can have negative consequences for young people.
Because if women are stressed for a long time during pregnancy, this can increase the risk for the unborn child of later developing a mental or physical illness - such as an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a cardiovascular disease .
How exactly stress reaches the baby in the womb is not fully understood, but researchers at the University of Zurich (UZH), in collaboration with the University Hospital Zurich and the Max Planck Institute Munich, have found that psychological stress in the mother changes the metabolism in the placenta and can also affect the growth of the unborn.
The experts have published the new findings in the specialist journal "The International Journal on the Biology of Stress".
Stress hormones get into the amniotic fluid
When stressed, the human body releases hormones in order to cope with the higher stress: such as the so-called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which subsequently increases the stress hormone cortisol, according to a UZH statement.
This mechanism persists during pregnancy, and the placenta, which provides the fetus with nutrients, can also release the stress hormone CRH. As a result, it gets into the fetal circulation and amniotic fluid in small quantities.
According to the scientists, it is known from animal studies that this hormone can stimulate the development of the unborn: It is released more when the growth conditions in the womb are unfavorable.
This is to increase the chances of survival in the face of a premature birth. Under certain circumstances, this can also have negative consequences: "If growth is accelerated too much, this can happen at the expense of a differentiated maturation of the organs," explained study director and psychologist Ulrike Ehlert.
No negative effect with short-term exposure
But how does psychological stress affect the release of stress hormones in the placenta? The researchers examined 34 healthy pregnant women who underwent amniotic fluid puncture as part of prenatal diagnosis.
Such an examination represents a stressful situation for the expectant mother, her body releases cortisol for a short time. To determine whether the placenta also releases stress hormones, the scientists compared the cortisol level in the mother's saliva with the CRH level in the amniotic fluid.
They found no connection: "Apparently the baby remains protected against the negative effects of stress when the mother is under acute, short-term stress", says Ehlert.
Secure bond between mother and child after birth
However, the results were different with continued stress: "If the maternal stress lasts longer, the CRH level in the amniotic fluid is increased," explained study researcher and psychologist Pearl La Marca-Ghaemmaghami.
And this higher concentration of stress hormone in turn accelerated the growth of the fetus. This confirms the effect of the hormone on growth, as is known from animals.
"The corticotropin-releasing hormone CRH apparently also plays a complex and dynamic role in the development of the human fetus, which needs to be better understood," says La Marca-Ghaemmaghami.
The psychologists advise pregnant women who are exposed to longer stressful situations "to get support from a psychological specialist in order to cope better with the stresses".
Relaxation exercises to reduce stress are also generally recommended. Yoga or autogenic training are suitable here. Progressive muscle relaxation also relieves stress. Meditation can also be effective here.
However, stress during pregnancy cannot always be avoided. "A secure bond between mother and child after birth can neutralize the negative effects of stress during pregnancy," said La Marca-Ghaemmaghami. (ad)