Mother's touch could change effects of prenatal stress

October 16, 2012

Scientists at the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, and Kings College, London, have found that mothers who stroke their baby's body in the first few weeks after birth may change the effects that stress during pregnancy can have on an infant's early-life development.

Researchers world-wide have been studying whether stress in pregnancy can lead to emotional and behavioural problems in children for many years. Attention is now moving towards how parents might alter these effects after birth. Researchers are aiming to improve understanding of the issues to help enhance information services for and their partners.

Scientists believe that stress in pregnancy can have an effect on an infant in later life by reducing the activity of that play a role in . Studies of early care-giving in rats have found that high levels of mothers' licking and grooming their pups soon after birth can increase the activity of these genes and may reverse the effects of prenatal stress on their .

Some studies suggest that impacts of prenatal stress on an infant's development can be either positive or negative depending on the type of environment a child encounters. It is thought that some children may experience the effects through being more prone to high levels of fear or anger.

The team at Liverpool, Manchester and London followed first-time mothers from pregnancy through to the first years of their children's lives as part of Medical Research Council (MRC) funded research, The Wirral and Development Study.

It showed that links between in pregnancy and subsequent infant emotions of fear and anger, as well as heart rate response to stress at seven months of age changed by how often a mother stroked their baby on the head, back, legs and arms in the early weeks of life. The results suggest that stroking may alter in a similar way to that reported in animals.

Dr Helen Sharp, from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, explains: "We are currently following up on the Wirral children in our study to see if reports of early stroking by their mothers continue to make a difference to developmental outcomes over time.

"The eventual aim is to find out whether we should recommend that mothers who have been stressed during pregnancy should be encouraged to stroke their babies early in life."

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Explore further: Stressful pregnancies can lead to stressful children

Related Stories

Stressful pregnancies can lead to stressful children

July 22, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- A new study published in Translational Psychiatry suggests that children whose mothers are highly stressed during pregnancy are more likely to be vulnerable to stress as they grow older.

Expectant fathers should receive prenatal care, support, study finds

May 12, 2011
A University of Missouri researcher has found that stress related to pregnancy uniquely affects the health of expectant fathers, which in turn, influences the health of expectant mothers and their infants. Health services ...

Repeated stress in pregnancy linked to children's behavior

April 20, 2011
Research from Perth's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research has found a link between the number of stressful events experienced during pregnancy and increased risk of behavioural problems in children.

Recommended for you

Gene associated with schizophrenia risk regulates neurodevelopment

September 25, 2017
A gene associated with the risk of schizophrenia regulates critical components of early brain development, according to a new study led by researchers from Penn State University. The gene is involved in the translation of ...

Child abuse affects brain wiring

September 25, 2017
Researchers from the McGill Group for Suicide Studies, based at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University's Department of Psychiatry, have just published research in the American Journal of Psychiatry ...

For a better 'I,' there needs to be a supportive 'we'

September 25, 2017
If you're one of those lucky individuals with high motivation and who actively pursues personal growth goals, thank your family and friends who support you.

Babies can learn that hard work pays off

September 21, 2017
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. A new study from MIT reveals that babies as young as 15 months can learn to follow this advice. The researchers found that babies who watched an adult struggle at two different ...

Study links brain inflammation to suicidal thinking in depression

September 21, 2017
Patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) have increased brain levels of a marker of microglial activation, a sign of inflammation, according to a new study in Biological Psychiatry by researchers at the University of ...

Oxytocin turns up the volume of your social environment

September 20, 2017
Before you shop for the "cuddle" hormone oxytocin to relieve stress and enhance your social life, read this: a new study from the University of California, Davis, suggests that sometimes, blocking the action of oxytocin in ...

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.