Stress such as bereavement during pregnancy could damage the health of an unborn baby for years to come, warned doctors in a new study. Expecting women who go through a major upheaval, like bereavement or separation, drastically increase the likelihood of their baby suffering ill health by the age of four.
In latest study researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, conducted a study involving more than one hundred and fifty expecting women. All were asked early in their pregnancy and again just a few weeks prior to delivery about any stressful events affecting them such as family bereavement, separation, sudden unemployment and a difficult pregnancy.
After four years women were asked again about the health of their children, including any illness which had escorted them to visit their doctor or being hospitalized. Researchers found an apparent association with stress in pregnancy and ill health, with trauma early in pregnancy particularly likely to be associated with asthma or infections such as tummy bugs.
Researchers believe that the health of the baby in the womb is the key factor. The association with chronic conditions was particularly strong, with two bouts of severe stress in pregnancy increasing the odds of ill health by five-fold. They believe that the possible causes include alterations in mother’s hormones or immune system affecting the growth of baby’s immune defenses.
Study leader Jasmin Wertz, explained the finding suggests the stress experienced during pregnancy induces biological changes in the unborn child that render it vulnerable to the development of illness later in life. Senior psychiatrist Carmine Pariante, sated they often talk about the concept of the foundation years, about the first two years of life being really important.
This is true, but it is crucial that the foundation years start at minus six months. With the study also showing high levels of depression among the stressed-out mothers-to-be and it was important pregnant women got the support they needed. But a pregnant woman who is depressed actually attracts a lot of empathy and sympathy, added Dr Pariante.
Earlier studies have also linked stress in the womb with lowering the unborn child’s IQ and raising the odds of hyperactivity, emotional problems and disobedience. The study was presented in annual conference for the British Association for Psychopharmacology’s.