London: Maternal stress and depression during pregnancy may activate certain protective mechanisms in newborns, says a study which found that these babies adapt more resilience to cope with future challenges and adversities.
According to researchers, increased concentrations of stress hormones, depressive symptoms and general adversities during pregnancy were accompanied by epigenetic changes in the child.
As a result of these changes the oxytocin receptor gene, which is important for social behaviour and stress adaptations, is activated more easily.
Oxytocin not only has an important function in mother-child bonding and in induction of labour and lactation, it also influences social behaviour.
“Resilience research in this area is only at the beginning. We need a comprehensive understanding of the psychological processes that allow humans to sustain long-term health even over generations despite adversities,” said one of the researchers Gunther Meinlschmidt from University of Basel in Switzerland.
The study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, analysed 100 mothers and their babies during and after pregnancy.
Then collected umbilical cord blood from 39 newborns and assessed cortisol– the stress hormone — in saliva samples of the mothers and also evaluated stressful life events and mental health of the mothers via questionnaires.
The findings indicated that in children from mothers with increased stress and depressive symptoms a gene important for social behaviour and stress adaptations is activated more easily.
The observations provide evidence that an adverse environment during pregnancy could also activate protective mechanisms.