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Low birth weight of infant associated with mother’s chronic stress levels

Posted:  Monday, April 04, 2016

Mother’s chronic stress adversely impacts health of infant. It is now known that chronic stress in women may lead to adverse outcomes in their offspring. A new study has revealed that maternal stress before and during pregnancy may predict low birth weight (less than 2.5 kg) of the newborns.

The study, published in the journal Health Psychology, investigated the role of chronic stress on new parents and their infants. For the purpose of the study, daily saliva samples were collected from 142 women. The severity of stress was determined by measuring cortisol levels.

The results showed that women under chronic stress were more likely to give birth to infant with low birthweight infants. Christine Guardino at the University of California explained, "We found that the same cortisol pattern that has been linked with chronic stress is associated with delivering a baby that weighs less at birth."

Chris Dunkel Schetter, a co-author, added, "Women's cortisol levels typically increase by two to four times during a normal pregnancy and that increase plays an important role in a baby's growth and development.” A possible mechanism for low birth weight in infants, is that the elevated cortisol levels beyond the normal range in mother may reduce blood supply to the foetus in the short term.

Moreover, if the cortisol levels remain high for a long time, the child's response to stress is altered later in life. Low-birth-weight infants are at an increased risk for infant mortality, and the development of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders throughout their lifespan.

Consequently, women planning to conceive should take into account the possible ill effects of everyday stress. They should start planning for a healthy pregnancy in advance.

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