Maternal stress may affect the fetus and have long term effects on its health, according to German researchers and the article they published in Transnational Psychiatry.
Cambridge University scientists, noticed that a stress hormone receptor in the fetus undergoes biological changes if the mother experiences high levels of stress. In the future, this may cause the child to be less capable of handling stress.
These results were the outcome of a small study on 25 women and their children, who are now between 10 and 19 years old. Researchers explain that the women that took part in the study lived in "special" conditions and that most pregnant women do not expose themselves to such high levels of stress at a daily basis.
Of those results are not absolute as many other factors such as the social environment the child grows up in may play a significant part. Scientists however suspect that the first environment, the womb, is crucial in the the child's development.
The scientists studied the genes of the mothers and those of their children in case they found anything unusual. Some teenagers experienced changes in glucocorticoid, which affects the hormonal response of the organism to stress. These genetic alterations usually happen while the fetus is still in the womb. The researchers believe it is caused by the bad emotional state of the mother during pregnancy.
The sample of the study consisted of mothers who lived under the constant threat of violence by their partners or husbands. This constant stress affected their pregnancies.
When the children were tested during their teens, the glucocorticoid changes were obvious, something which did not happen in other groups of teenagers.
The researchers stated that babies born to stressed mothers, perceive danger earlier than other children. They are therefore more susceptible to stress. The next target of the researchers is to study in detail large groups of mothers and their children in order to confirm the preliminary findings.