Prenatal Stress Phenotypes Related to Fetal Neurodevelopment and Birth Outcomes

Published Online: Tuesday, October 29th, 2019
Researchers at Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Hospital found that mothers who are stressed may have an affect the sex of the baby and be associated with some forms of birth complications. 1
The study analyzed 187 women divided into 3 different groups: healthy women (HG), psychologically stressed women (PSYG) who were found to have depression and anxiety, and physically stressed women (PHSG) found to have higher blood pressure and higher caloric intake. 1,2
Results showed that infants in the PHSG group were born 1.5 weeks earlier compared to the HG group. In addition, fetuses in the PHSG group versus HG had decreased fetal heart rate-movement coupling, which indicates slower central nervous system development. 2
The PSYG and PHSG group had a lower normative male:female secondary sex ratio than the HG group, showing diminished male births in maternal stress contexts. With this, the PSYG fetus group versus PHSG had more birth complications, consistent with previous findings among offspring of women with psychiatric illness. 2
  1. A mother’s stress level during pregnancy may affect the baby’s sex, study suggests. USA Today website. Published October 18, 2019. Accessed October 23, 2019.
  2. Walsh K, McCormack CA, Webster R, et al. Maternal prenatal stress phenotypes associate with fetal neurodevelopment and birth outcomes. PNAS. 2019; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1905890116.  

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