Alleseuropa reports that an estimated 30 per cent of pregnant women report psychosocial stress from job strain or related to depression and anxiety.

Alleseuropa reports that such stress has been associated with increased risk of premature birth, which is linked to higher rates of infant mortality and of physical and mental disorders, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety, among offspring.

However a new reports from researchers from the U.S university institutes found that what most differentiated the three groups of Stress during pregnancy was the amount of social support a mother received from friends and family. For example, the more social support a mother received, the greater the likelihood of her having a healthy child.

Maternal stress not only affects fetus and child development but also has an impact on birth outcomes, according to a recent study. The study was published in the journal, the U.S Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Alleseuropa reports that the outcome confirmed that this stress during pregnancy not only affects fetus and child development but also has an impact on birth outcomes.

“The womb is an influential first home, as important as the one a child is raised in, if not more so,” said the study leader Catherine Monk, PhD, professor of medical psychology at the U.S Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and director of Women’s Mental Health in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

Because stress can manifest in a variety of ways, both as a subjective experience and in physical and lifestyle measurements, Monk and her colleagues examined 27 indicators of psycho-social, physical and lifestyle stress collected from questionnaires, diaries, and daily physical assessments of 187 otherwise healthy pregnant women, ages 18 to 45.

The study suggested that pregnant women experiencing physical and psychological stress are less likely to have a boy. “Other researchers have seen this pattern after social upheavals.

“This stress in women is likely of long-standing nature; studies have shown that males are more vulnerable to adverse prenatal environments, suggesting that highly stressed women may be less likely to give birth to a male due to the loss of prior male pregnancies, often without even knowing they were pregnant,” Monk added.

Other than this, physically stressed mothers, with higher blood pressure and caloric intake, were more likely to give birth prematurely than unstressed mothers.

Among physically stressed mothers, fetuses had reduced heart rate-movement coupling — an indicator of slower central nervous system development — compared with unstressed mothers. And psychologically stressed mothers had more birth complications than physically stressed mothers.

When social support was statistically equalised across the groups, the stress effects on preterm birth disappeared.

“Screening for depression and anxiety are gradually becoming a routine part of a prenatal practice,” said Monk. “But while our study was small, the results suggest enhancing social support is potentially an effective target for clinical intervention.”

Alleseuropa reports that Prenatal stress does have an effect on brain sexual differentiation after measuring the volume of the sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area of both female and males in the control and stressed groups. Prenatal stress inhibits the masculinzation of the male brain by inhibiting the growth of the sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area.

Previous studies found that a decrease in testosterone is seen in pups of prenatally stressed mothers. Authors suggest this may cause the reduced in the sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area and says it is similar to the effects of neonatal castration. Also, stressed males had larger sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area at birth, but then at 20 and 60 days are found to only have 50% of the volume of the control males.

Whereas control males are two times larger than control females on days 20 and 60, but the stressed males show no statistical difference to control females on respective days.

These findings show support that the male brain is not showing the expected sexual dimorphism when prenatally stressed. Another study led by Kerchner et al.

investigated the volume of the medial amygdala and the two compartments posterodorsal and the posteroventral in mice that also were prenatally stressed. Posterodorsal is thought to show organizational and activational effects from gonadal steroids.

The medial amygdala for the control and stressed males was 85% larger than females with the males (stressed and control) resembling each other. To look for specific regions within the medial amygdala that may have been affected, data showed that both the posterodorsal and posteroventral, all male groups were larger in volume than the females, but male groups did not significantly differ from each other. This study confirmed that the medial amygdala is sexually dimorphic; the males are larger than the females.

The posterodorsal and posteroventral were shown to be sexually dimorphic too.

Experts suggested that these areas may act similarly to sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area in response to testosterone, but prenatal stress did not show an effect on the medial amygdala as it does on the sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area.

Also, the posteroventral was 40% larger in control males than females. These results were thought to be caused by the sensitive period of the medial amygdala which is in the first days after birth. The medial amygdala, posterodorsal and posteroventral all show to be resistant against demasculinization from prenatal stress.

Alleseuropa reports Prenatal stress or prenatal maternal stress as exposure of an expectant mother to stress, which can be caused by stressful life events or by environmental hardships.

The resulting changes to the mother’s hormonal and immune system may harm the fetus’s and after birth, the infant’s immune function and brain development.

Prenatal stress is shown to have several affects in fetal brain development. In the hippocampus of adult male rats, prenatal stress has shown to decrease the rate of proliferation and cell death in the hypothalamus-pituitary axis.

Prenatal stressed animals have prolonged corticosterone response. Removing the adrenal glands of the mother eliminates the effect of the pup’s corticosterone response.

Supplementing the adrenalectamized mother with corticosterone, rescued the hypothalamic-pituitary-axis response to maternal stress for prenatally stressed offspring. Prenatal stress caused high glucocorticoids, which in turn affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-axis negative feedback. A study by García-Cáceres et al.

showed that prenatal stress decreases cell turnover and proliferation in the hypothalamus of adult rats, which reduces structural plasticity and reduces the response to stress in adulthood.

This study also showed that when prenatally stressed rats were stressed in adulthood the females showed an increase in corticotropin-releasing hormone suggesting it to be an up-regulation in the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis.

Males showed no elevation of corticosterone levels. Increase in adrenocorticotropic hormone with no effect of adult stress and a decrease in the corticotropin-releasing hormone mRNA in the hypothalamus showed a down-regulation. The author concludes that this makes prenatally stressed females less reactive to later life stressors than males.

Pups that underwent prenatal stress showed lower plasma testosterone when compared to the control pups.

This is caused by the disruption of prenatal development which did not allow the complete masculinization of the prenatally stressed pups’ central nervous system.

Particularly in the striatum of the prenatally stressed male pups showed an increase in vanilmandelic acid, dopamine, serotonin, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid which all can affect sexual behavior.

The prenatally stressed male pups showed a significant latency in mounting behavior when compared to controls.

Alleseuropa reports that When doing the radial arm maze task prenatally stressed male rats showed a greater increase in dopamine than the prenatally stressed females, which is suggested to facilitate the impairment for the males doing the maze task, but improved the female’s performance.

There was also an effect on the corticosterone secretion for prenatally stressed females. Being prenatally stressed increased the anxiety response of the female rats. Yet, it had no effect on the males.

Alleseuropa concludes that a little love and care will go a long way to help our pregnant mother.

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