Thursday, November 10, 2011

Unborn child senses the mother's mood in the womb

It is known that mothers should be careful when pregnant. Not only because they are physically carrying an unborn child around, but also because their health status can affect the foetus. Doctors advice to not take any alcohol or drugs during pregnancy, and pharmaceuticals should be avoided as much as possible. Ignoring it can cause serious brain damage to the foetus, leading to severe troubles during life. A new study reveals that not only consumption pattern is relevant for foetal development: unborn babies can also sense when a mother is depressed, scientists from the University of California-Irvine have found. And peculiar enough, for the baby's development after birth it was found to be beneficial that a depressed mother stays depressed.

That is what the scientists concluded, after they assessed participants for depression and corresponding development of the baby after it was born. It seems that a foetus prepares for certain life conditions, which may impede development they change after birth. Proof for that mechanism has existed for quite some time. It is known, for example, that offspring who lacked nutrition during foetal development (either by placenta dysfunction, or because the mother is not being fed well) has an increased chance on developing obesity and diabetes: it is as if the baby prepares for a life full of malnutrition, a compensation that is found to be harmful when it turns out the world after birth is characterized by a surplus of food.

The scientists suspect that anxiety, another psychological symptom, may also influence the unborn baby. It is likely that the stress axis, in which the brain sends out signals to the adrenal glands to produce the stress hormone cortisol, is involved in altering foetal development in depression. The link between depression and foetal development is not even that surprising: it was already known that many factors that affect the mother, can also affect the child she is carrying.

As of yet, it is unknown what the long-term implications are for prenatal depression which is resolved after birth of the child. Future studies will unravel how these children cope when they grow older. At least the studies have provided us with more insight in factors that matter during pregnancy. According to the scientists, it may help to screen pregnant women for prenatal depression, and treat them before it can affect the baby's development.

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