An infant’s brain development may be affected by stress during pregnancy

The study was conducted at the University of Edinburgh.

2 min read

An infant’s brain development may be substantially impacted by the mother’s stress during pregnancy, a recent study by the University of Edinburgh has concluded.

As released in the journal eLife, researchers at the Scottish-based institution measured levels of the hormone cortisol in a mother during pregnancy and examined how it could influence an infant’s brain development.

Cortisol is associated with the body’s response to stress, in which increased levels of the hormone indicates more stress or anxiety.

More than 70 female participants during pregnancy had their hair samples analyzed to establish levels of cortisol. The infants, on the other hand, were subjected to brain imaging tests, while at rest.

“We tested the hypothesis that maternal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, measured by hair cortisol concentration (HCC), is associated with microstructure, structural connectivity, and volume of the infant amygdala,” according to David Stoye, the study’s first author.

“In 78 mother-infant dyads, maternal hair was sampled postnatally, and infants underwent magnetic resonance imaging at term-equivalent age,” Stoye also wrote in the findings.

The results of their study on the brain development of the infants showed that detection of higher levels of cortisol in their mother led to structural changes in the amygdala region of the infant’s brain.

The authors of the study determined the following, based on their results: “Our findings are a call to action to detect and support pregnant women who need extra help during pregnancy as this could be an effective way of promoting healthy brain development in their babies”.

Image courtesy of Freepik