New method: Research team analyzes stress biology in babies

August 28, 2012

After waking up, the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol in saliva rises considerably; this is true not only for grown-ups but for babies as well. A research team from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and from Basel has reported this finding in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

"This gives us a new, non-invasive and uncomplicated possibility to already research the activity of the stress system during ," Prof. Dr. Gunther Meinlschmidt, of the Clinic of and Psychotherapy at the LWL University Hospital of the RUB, said. The information not only open doors to the pursuit of as-yet unresolved research inquiries, but could also be used in the future to diagnose illnesses in the hormone-producing organs, such as the , of infants.

Scientists usually test the of grown-ups by placing in an experiment under stress-inducing conditions. Since a similar practice is, for ethical reasons, unthinkable to use with babies, it is rather more difficult to find out how well-developed their stress systems are. The German-Swiss research team circumvented this problem by observing a naturally occurring "stress situation" – waking up. The cortisol-concentration in grown-ups rises after they wake up, presumably to prepare the body for the requirements of the day. At what age this cortisol-reaction develops has long been unclear.

Data from 64 and infants between the ages of three weeks and six months were used in the study. On two days the infants' parents had their children suck on a small at home, once right after waking up and once half an hour later. Through this , the scientists determined the cortisol-concentration. The cortisol amount rose considerably after the infants awoke in 63 % of cases. Neither the hour that the child woke up nor breastfeeding after waking played any role in these findings.

Instead the length of the pregnancy had an effect. The earlier the children were born, the less their cortisol-levels rose after they woke up. "The stress hormone system may be less mature in babies who were born after a shorter pregnancy, which could have negative consequences," assistant professor Marion Tegethoff, of the Faculty for Psychology at the University of Basel, said. Since cortisol can inhibit the immune system, the lack of cortisol-level rises could lead to excess immunological responses, similarly to what occurs with allergies.

Stress increases the risk for mental disorders and bodily illnesses. There is now a new method available to investigate the stress systems easily in babies. Prof. Meinlschmidt, head of the Research Department of Psychobiology, Psychosomatics, and Psychotherapy at the LWL University Hospital in Bochum explains future research questions: "In some rodents the hormonal stress response in the first weeks of life is, for a specific timeframe, close to shut down – perhaps to protect organs that are developing during this time. It is still unknown if there is a comparable phase in humans, since it has long been impossible, because of ethical reasons, to repeatedly assess the hormonal stress reaction."

Explore further: New study shows surprise regarding important hormone level

More information: M. Tegethoff, N. Knierzinger, A.H. Meyer, G. Meinlschmidt (2012): Cortisol awakening response in infants during the first six postnatal months and its relation to birth outcome, Psychoneuroendocrinology, doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.08.002

Related Stories

New study shows surprise regarding important hormone level

December 1, 2011
Cortisol may be the Swiss Army knife of hormones in the human body -- just when scientists think they understand what it does, another function pops up. While many of these functions are understood for adults, much less is ...

Not sleeping with parents linked to baby's stress in bath: Dutch study

October 6, 2011
Babies who do not sleep in their parents' bedroom, experience a higher stress level in the bath than children who do, concludes NWO researcher Carolina de Weerth from Radboud University Nijmegen. She published the results ...

Voting causes stress: study

September 14, 2011
As the United States nears another election day, researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have determined scientifically, for the first time, that voting is a stressful event, inducing measurable hormonal changes.

Study finds stress hormones fluctuate with mood during pregnancy

February 10, 2012
(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 ...

Recommended for you

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.