Logic tells you that if you are a stressed-out pregnant woman, somehow that anxiety will become your baby's norm, and even seep into his or her personality. But for a long time, no research confirmed that. Well, until now.
Professor Marta Weinstock-Rosin of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem School of Pharmacy has been fascinated with this subject her entire work life, and now her experimental work with rats has demonstrated the connection in a conclusive, laboratory-tested manner.
"There is an enormous advantage in working with rats," says Weinstock-Rosen. (No, she's not talking about cheating ex-husbands but the animal kind.)
Researchers were able to compare offspring of stressed rat mothers with offspring whose mothers were not stressed. They also were able to compare the results of administering various types of stress at different periods during gestation to see which period might produce which behavior.
And guess what they discovered?
Stress during pregnancy caused developmental and emotional problems for the rat pups, included impaired learning and memory, less capacity to cope with adversity and symptoms of anxiety and depressive-like behavior.
Weinstein-Rosin says that all these symptoms parallel impairments that occur in kids born to mothers who experience stress during pregnancy.
According to Science Daily, further experiments by Weinstock-Rosin and her students have shown that the culprit was the hormone cortisol, which is released by the adrenal gland during stress and may reach the fetal brain during critical stages of development.
Cortisol has a beneficial function in supplying instant energy, but it should be in small amounts and for a short period of time. With excessive stress, however, too much cortisol reaching the fetal brain can cause structural and functional changes. In humans, excessive cortisol can also stimulate the release of another hormone that may cause premature birth, which can also have an effect on the baby. Many mothers know that preemies often end up with learning problems and developmental delays.
Weinstock-Rosin's work, along with that of colleagues from Israel, the UK and elsewhere, will be presented at an international conference, "Long Term Consequences of Early Life Stress," today and tomorrow.
So what is the conclusion? Keep stress out of your life if you are pregnant, in fact keep stress out of your life, period. And make sure there are no real-life rats annoying you.