The mother's permanent stress affects the baby through the amniotic fluid

The mother's permanent stress affects the baby through the amniotic fluid

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If the mother is stressed for a long time during pregnancy, the concentrations of stress hormones in the amniotic fluid increase. On the other hand, a short-term stress situation does not necessarily appear to have an unfavorable effect on the development of the unborn. This has been proven by researchers from Zurich.

If an expectant mother feels strongly stressed over a longer period of time, 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. The Swiss scientists have found that psychological stress in the mother can change the metabolism in the placenta and also affect the growth of the unborn child.

Stress hormone affects the growth of the fetus
When stressed, the human body releases hormones in order to cope with the higher load: such as the so-called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which subsequently increases the stress hormone cortisol. This mechanism persists during pregnancy, and the placenta, which supplies 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. It is known from animal studies that this hormone can stimulate the development of the unborn: It is released more when the growing 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.

Short-term stress - no effect
How does psychological stress affect the release of stress hormones in the placenta? The research team 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 researchers compared the cortisol level in the mother's saliva with the CRH level in the amniotic fluid - and found no connection.

Longer loads in the amniotic fluid can be measured
The results of persistent stress, which was determined using a questionnaire for the diagnosis of chronic stress, are quite different: if the maternal stress lasts longer, the CRH level in the amniotic fluid is increased. And this higher concentration of stress hormone in turn accelerated the growth of the fetus. (BDH)

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