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When a pregnant woman is stressed, her child may end up more anxious, too, study says

A study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that women with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are up to twice as likely to have a baby girl with a mood disorder. It didn’t alter boy babies.
A study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that women with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are up to twice as likely to have a baby girl with a mood disorder. It didn’t alter boy babies. TNS

It turns out the emotions you have during pregnancy could change the way your child’s mind works.

More specifically, being really stressed as you carry a child to term could lead that baby to become more anxious and depressed by the age of 2.

That’s according to a new study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, which found that pregnant women with high amounts of the stress hormone cortisol are “significantly” more likely to have their child develop a mood disorder when they become a toddler.

But there’s one major, and slightly perplexing, caveat: Only baby girls seem to be affected. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry, said in a press release that might explain why mood disorders often affect more women then men.

“Many mood and anxiety disorders are approximately twice as common in females as in males,” he said in the press release. “This paper highlights one unexpected sex-specific risk factor for mood and anxiety disorders in females.

“High maternal levels of cortisol during pregnancy appear to contribute to risk in females, but not males.”

The CDC shares a few tips for a healthy pregnancy, including taking care of yourself and talking to your doctor. You should also get vaccinated against whooping cough and the flu during each pregnancy.

For the study, researchers say they examined the levels of cortisol in 70 pregnant women during early, mid and late gestational periods. Then, once the mothers’ babies turned 2, researchers asked mothers whether their children developed any “behavior problems.”

Researchers took MRIs of each baby’s brain shortly after birth to see whether the structure of the brain was different from normal, the study says.

When it comes to toddler girls born to a stressed mother, they had behavior problems that “appeared to result from patterns of stronger communication between brain regions important for sensory and emotion processing,” according to the press release.

Again, there seemed to be no relation between a mother’s stress hormones and the mood disorders her son might develop.

In other words, the study suggests that cortisol might play a role in shaping a female baby’s brain, in turn making her more prone to developing a mood disorder later in life.

It’s not the first study to suggest negative emotions can alter the outcome of a pregnancy.

Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, a study from last month found that at 1 year old, babies born to mothers with major depressive disorders release more than the average amount of cortisol when stressed.

Babies born to mothers who were grieving the death of a loved one during pregnancy are more likely to need ADHD and anti-anxiety medicines later in life, according to a study published in the journal American Economic Review.

And another study in the journal PLOS One found that the stress of worrying about racial discrimination might explain why black women have a higher chance of having a baby born early than white women.

With the barrage of celebrity ‘baby bump’ photos that have exploded on the internet, many new moms worry about their pregnancy shape and wonder if their bump is too big or too small.

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