Study: Baby’s growth affected by mother’s stress level during pregnancy

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – We face many stressful situations everyday, but how does that stress affect pregnant women? Research done at the University of New Mexico is showing how stress can affect the baby’s growth.

The recently published study suggests babies are physically affected by the stress level of their mother during pregnancy resulting in either a faster growth or a slower growth.

“It gives us an idea how tolerant ecology and environment might react to a stress that comes out from this effect. The other aspect that is very important for us was what is the optimal conditions under which to raise children,” said Andreas Berghänel, lead researcher.

It’s been known for years that prenatal stress can affect the offspring’s health later in life in terms of obesity, diabetes and heart attacks. However, Berghänel says up to this point, there was confusion about the effects on offspring growth.

By using 719 studies across 21 mammal species, he and researchers from the University of Goettingen and the German Primate Center found that prenatal stress affects offspring growth rates depending on the timing of the stressor.

They say offspring that experience prenatal stress early in gestation undergoes an accelerated growth, whereas prenatal stress late in gestation slowed their growth.

Researchers say that’s because mothers undergoing stress at that time are unable to invest as much energy in their offspring. However, Berghänel says this can be fixed later in life.

“It’s important to see that this is what prenatal stress does but its not fixed for life after that. There are some points in life also later on where all these effects can be readjusted,” said Berghänel.

Berghänel says this study could also help them understand why girls start their menstrual cycles earlier in low-income households.

Researchers also say they’re going to be looking into how breastfeeding also plays a role in offspring growth.

To see the full study, click here.

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