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Pregnancy stress affects the gender of the offspring and the risk of premature birth
Stress during pregnancy can affect the gender of the offspring and increase the risk of premature birth, according to a recent study. It was already known from previous studies that pregnancy stress has far-reaching consequences for the development of the unborn child.
In the new study, the research team led by Professor Catherine Monk from Columbia University (USA) examined the effects of maternal stress during pregnancy on the development of the unborn child and the time of birth. Various forms of physical and psychological stress were identified, which can have a particularly strong impact.
Different forms of stress are captured
Since stress can manifest itself in a variety of ways - both as a subjective experience and in physical and lifestyle factors - 27 indicators of psychosocial, physical and lifestyle stress were used, which were based on questionnaires, diaries and daily physical assessments in 187 otherwise healthy pregnant women were recorded. All subjects were between the ages of 18 and 45, the researchers report.
A third of the pregnant women suffered from stress
Of the subjects, 17 percent were mentally stressed with clinically significant high levels of depression, anxiety and perceived stress. Another 16 percent had physical stress symptoms such as high blood pressure. The remaining women had no symptoms of stress, the researchers report.
Fewer boys are born when stressed
The researchers reported that the likelihood of giving birth to a boy decreased in pregnant women who had physical and psychological stress. The ratio of male to female offspring was four to nine in the physically stressed group, and two to three in the psychologically stressed group. "This pattern was also seen after social upheavals, such as the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, after which the relative number of male births decreased," explains the study leader.
Social support can offset the disadvantages
The male offspring appears to be more susceptible to unfavorable prenatal conditions and the stressed women are likely to be less susceptible to further male offspring (often unnoticed) due to the loss of previous male fetuses, the researchers suspect. It was also striking that the group with the highest social support - for example through mother, friends and family - was more likely to have a male baby. The disadvantages of stress during pregnancy may be compensated for by social support, the researchers continue.
Increased complications from pregnancy stress
Other striking results were that mentally stressed mothers had more birth complications than physically stressed mothers. An estimated many pregnant women would have complained of psychosocial stress from work-place stress. This form of stress was also associated with an increased risk of premature birth and with increased mental disorders such as attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder and anxiety in the offspring.
Neurological and behavioral development impaired
"Stress can also affect the mother's immune system, which leads to changes that affect the neurological and behavioral development of the fetus"; Catherine Monk reports. The current study shows how important the mental health of the mother is, also for her unborn child.
Researchers at the Greifswald University Medical Center are also currently planning a study that will examine the effects of pregnancy stress on babies and possible countermeasures. Currently, participants are still being sought there. (fp)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters
- 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 : Maternal prenatal stress phenotypes associate with fetal neurodevelopment and birth outcomes; in: PNAS (published 14.10.2019), pnas.org