Prenatal Maternal Stress: Neurological and Physiological Impacts on Offspring

sleeping newborn

“Children of women who experienced six or more self-reported stressful life events during pregnancy, regardless of the timing, were at about four times greater risk of developing mental health problems later in life.

In another study, high  Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) levels during gestation were correlated with decreased physical and neuromuscular maturity, which has been associated with impaired brain development and motor development abnormalities.

Longitudinally, evidence points to an association between high levels of prenatal maternal cortisol and fearful and reactive behaviors of offspring (Davis et al., 2011). Babies who were exposed to high levels of stress in utero tend to be more reactive after birth, show more behavioral inhibition and anxiety during infancy, toddlerhood, and childhood, and display a slower rate of recovery from stress responses.

They are also more likely as toddlers and children to have greater physiological arousal to challenges, to display anxiety or fear in new situations, to have higher stress reactivity and poorer emotional and attentional regulation (Davis, 2011).

But an infant’s brain is still very malleable after birth. Positive patterns in early life, especially in the first year, can heal trauma and enable a baby to develop the cortisol receptors and relax into a less-stressed state, from which it will develop accordingly. Social supports, a nurturing home environment, and bonding techniques such as parent-infant massage can help mothers and their partners adjust to parenthood with less stress. This will have a direct and positive impact on babies exposed to high prenatal levels of stress hormones (McClure, 2000).”

Anna Humphreys
Extract from Prenatal Maternal Stress: Neurological and Physiological Impacts on Offspring
(Published 09/2015)

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