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Prenatal stress increases birth complications and decreases male births

According to a new study published this week, mothers who undergo physical and mental stress during their pregnancies are more likely to deliver prematurely and have birth complications. The study titled, “Maternal prenatal stress phenotypes associate with fetal neurodevelopment and birth outcomes, ”Was published in the latest issue of PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).

Image Credit: Zenit Infinity / Shutterstock

Image Credit: Zenit Infinity / Shutterstock

Lead author of the study Catherine Monk, director of women's mental health at OB / GYN at New York-Presbyterian / Columbia University's Irving Medical Center, called her mother's womb, the baby's "influential first home" explaining her study. The authors explain that there have been "no studies of which we are aware of multiple maternal stress indicators to identify the types of maternal stress that most influence offspring development."

Their study found that maternal stress is also less likely to result in male births. She added, "We know males are more vulnerable in utero, and presumably the stress in these women is of a long-standing nature." She explained that there is an average of 105 baby babies born to 100 girls. This is a natural choice she said because males are more likely to die from physical pursuits. This study reveals that mothers who are physically and mentally stressed during pregnancy or before giving birth to fewer boys than healthy women. These pregnancies were all healthy, Monk said.

According to her, “Other researchers have seen this pattern of decline in male births related to traumatic cataclysmic events. One of them being President Kennedy's assassination and the other being the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. ”
Physical stress on the mother during and before pregnancy also led to a higher number of preterm births compared to mothers with low physical stress. Psychological stress also led to longer labor duration and birth complications compared to mothers who were less mentally stressed, the authors of the study wrote.

The team included 27 variables for their study and looked at questionnaires, diaries, and physical assessment records of mothers with single pregnancies. They included 187 mothers in their study. Results showed that 66.8 percent of mothers were in the healthy group (HG), 17.1 percent belonged to the psychologically stressed group (PSYG) with stress, depression or anxiety, and 16 percent belonged to the physically stressed group (PHSG). The PHSG had high calorie intake and high blood pressure. Results showed that if the normal male to female ratio was 105: 100, the values ​​were 23: 18 in HG, 2: 3 in PSYG and 4: 9 in PHSG. Further PHSG babies were born an average of 1.5 weeks earlier than HG babies with 22 percent preterm births (compared to 5 percent in HG). These babies also had lower heart rates at birth. PSYG babies had more birth complications.

Monk said these factors were reversible. She added that when these expectant mothers were provided social support, there was a lower risk of preterm delivery. She said this came as a surprise and what was more surprising was that the more a woman was supported, the more the likelihood of her having a baby boy. She said, “The support could come from family and friends. It could be a sense of belonging to a religious community. It is the sense of social cohesion and social connectedness that research suggests is a buffer against stress experiences. It means you take a break from it. ”

The researchers wrote that there is evidence that one in three pregnant women report psychological stress that arises out of mental ailments such as depression and anxiety or job-related stress. The team explains that each of these conditions may be releasing the stress hormone cortisol. This level is meant to combat short durations of stress but chronically raised cortisol can increase the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes in the mother and make her more prone to physical ailments. This could be detrimental to babies as well, explains the researchers.

The authors of the study conclude, “This study's key contributions include the use of a data-driven procedure to identify types of maternal stress — psychological and subclinical physical health indicators — that predict offspring outcomes including sex at birth, risk of preterm birth , and fetal neurodevelopment. Social support is a key factor in differentiating stress groups and a malleable intervention aimed at improving offspring outcomes. ”

Monk said the way to get around this would be to reduce physical and mental stress during pregnancy and this could begin at the beginning of pre-natal care. She said, “Why not check in and ask yourself how are you managing stress? Do you have tools? Do you need some more help? Where's the extra help going to come from? I think it's an ideal time to do that. "

Journal reference:

Maternal prenatal stress phenotypes associated with fetal neurodevelopment and birth outcomes Kate Walsh, Clare A. McCormack, Rachel Webster, Anita Pinto, Seonjoo Lee, Tianshu Feng, H. Sloan Krakovsky, Sinclaire M. O'Grady, Benjamin Tycko, Frances A. Champagne , Elizabeth A. Werner, Grace Liu, Catherine Monk Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Oct 2019, 201905890; DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.1905890116,

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