Stress-related Symptoms during Pregnancy may Negatively Impact the Cognitive Development of Toddlers
BY: Benny Chung
Jun 28, 2013

Stress-related symptoms are recognized as a prevalent complication of pregnancy, affecting around 25% of women, even those with healthy pregnancies and high socioeconomic status. Prenatal maternal stress exposure has been suggested to have long-lasting consequences on brain development in the offspring, for instance altered regional brain volumetric growth (such as amygdala, hippocampal, cerebellar, and cortical gray matter volumes), cortical folding, metabolism, microstructure, and functional connectivity, as well as long-term neurodevelopmental impairments. In a cohort study of 97 mother-infant dyads who underwent foetal magnetic resonance imaging studies and infant neurodevelopmental testing at 18 months, prenatal maternal stress was inversely associated with infant cognitive outcome, and this association was partially mediated by foetal left hippocampal volume. Additionally, the results suggested that elevated foetal cortical gyrification index and sulcal depth in pregnancies complicated by maternal psychological distress were correlated with lower infant social-emotional and competence performance. The findings underscore the importance of mental health support for pregnant women. Furthermore, identifying early brain developmental biomarkers may help improve the identification of infants at risk for later neurodevelopmental impairment who might benefit from early targeted interventions.


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