Study finds stress hormones fluctuate with mood during pregnancy

(Medical Xpress) -- While pregnant, women pay particular attention to factors such as diet and exercise to ensure their babies are born healthy and develop normally. New research from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine suggests another factor women should pay particular attention to while pregnant−their mood. The findings were published in this month’s issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Gerry Giesbrecht, PhD, a psychologist and member of the University’s Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute for Child and Maternal Health, was lead author on a study that analyzed how levels of the stress hormone cortisol change when mood changes in . While naturally fluctuate over the course of the day, the study found that as negative mood increases, cortisol levels increase as well.

These findings highlight the need to better understand how and to what extent the fetus shares its mother’s experience.

“It goes without saying that depression or anxiety affects the pregnant mom but we have mostly paid attention to these effects during the post-partum period. But knowing that mood changes a woman’s physiology in ways that have implications for the fetus tells us that health-care providers need to start paying attention to mood during pregnancy,” he says.

Cortisol is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body in both males and females. While its primary roles are to manage blood sugar levels, to suppress the immune system and to aid in the metabolism of specific nutrients, it also plays a unique role during pregnancy. Cortisol levels increase greatly during the final gestational weeks to ensure the baby’s lungs are prepared for birth. It is also vital for fetal brain development.

“This information suggests that too little of the hormone could have developmental consequences,” he says. “It also suggests that too much of the hormone could have developmental consequences. Now that we know changing mood has a large enough consequence on cortisol that it could affect the fetus, we can start to look at how to use maternal mood to achieve good developmental outcomes for the fetus.”

Giesbrecht says while they don’t currently know what the consequences are when exposed to too much of the hormone, the study has paved the way for further research on the topic.

“We have some sense of what happens when a fetus is exposed to too much cortisol, but we don’t have a lot of evidence as yet,” he says. Fiona McCord participated in the study while pregnant with her son. She says her participation came from her desire to help figure out the road map to a happy and healthy baby.

“While pregnant you’re constantly evaluating all your actions and are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure your baby arrives happy and healthy,” she says. “I thought by participating it might help someone like me in a few years who just wanted to make the right choices for her baby.”

The study followed 83 women, who were between six and 37 weeks gestation, by measuring cortisol levels in their saliva. Saliva collection was done at home over three consecutive days on a schedule that included upon waking, shortly after waking up and at various times throughout the day. The women completed a questionnaire at the time of each collection. To ensure no outside factors affected cortisol levels, participants were asked to refrain from consuming certain food products and refrain from certain activities prior to collection. Over 1,000 saliva samples were analyzed.

The study was funded by Alberta Innovates−Health Solutions and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute for Child and Maternal Health.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How pregnancy changes a woman's brain

Dec 21, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- We know a lot about the links between a pregnant mother’s health, behavior, and moods and her baby’s cognitive and psychological development once it is born. But how does pregnancy change a mother’s ...

Stress levels for couples examined in study

Jun 03, 2011

A new study found that it isn’t enough for couples to relax together for their stress levels to fall at the end of the day. Men find it easier to chill if their wives are still busy. Women prefer hands-on help: Their ...

A fetus can sense mom’s psychological state

Nov 10, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- As a fetus grows, it’s constantly getting messages from its mother. It’s not just hearing her heartbeat and whatever music she might play to her belly; it also gets chemical signals through the ...

Recommended for you

Discovery hints at why stress is more devastating for some

2 hours ago

Some people take stress in stride; others are done in by it. New research at Rockefeller University has identified the molecular mechanisms of this so-called stress gap in mice with very similar genetic backgrounds—a ...

Family dinners reduce effects of cyberbullying in adolescents

14 hours ago

Sharing regular family meals with children may help protect them from the effects of cyberbullying, according to a study by McGill professor Frank Elgar, Institute for Health and Social Policy. Because family meal times represent ...

The Edwardians were also fans of brain training

20 hours ago

Brain-training programmes are all the rage. They are part of a growing digital brain-health industry that earned more than US$1 billion in revenue in 2012 and is estimated to reach US$6 billion by 2020. The extent to which they actually improve brain function re ...

Report advocates improved police training

Aug 29, 2014

A new report released yesterday by the Mental Health Commission of Canada identifies ways to improve the mental health training and education that police personnel receive.

User comments