With cortisol levels, relationship quality results, and cognition scores in hand, researchers analyzed how the first two measures might influence the third. Indeed, for children showing "insecure attachment" to their mothers, a high prenatal cortisol level was linked with shorter attention spans and weaker language and problem-solving skills. But interestingly, for kids who enjoyed secure relationships with their moms, any negative link between high prenatal cortisol exposure and kids' cognitive development was eliminated.
"This is such refreshing news for mothers," O'Connor said. "Pregnancy is an emotional experience for many women, and there is already so much for mothers to be careful of and concerned about. It's a relief to learn that, by being good parents, they might 'buffer' their babies against potential setbacks."
Study Spawns Future Questions
O'Connor goes on to note a couple important nuances of the study. The first is that the amniotic (in-utero) cortisol studied could result from two sources, and it's hard to pinpoint which. It might, for instance, be passed along the placenta from an anxious mother to her unborn baby or it could be created and excreted directly by a stressed fetus itself.
"While many large-scale studies have observed that prenatal stress may influence child development, our particular study sheds some light on the 'how'," O'Connor said. "Still, much more research is needed to better pinpoint the exact mechanisms behind a mother 'transferring' her stress to her unborn baby."
This study plays into the much larger theory of "fetal programming," which suggests that events in the womb may prime
|Contact: Becky Jones|
University of Rochester Medical Center