Stressed expectant mothers '60% more likely' to have babies with health problems
Stress during pregnancy leaves a baby more at risk of breathing difficulties and being placed on a ventilator for the first half hour of its life
10:15 GMT, 3 July 2012
Expectant mothers who suffer from stress are 60 per cent more likely to have babies with health problems, according to a study.
Stress during pregnancy leaves a baby more at risk of conditions such as breathing syndrome meconium aspiration and being placed on a ventilator for the first half hour of its life.
Meconium aspiration – usually a sign of foetal distress – occurs after babies breathe in a mixture of meconium, or early faeces, and amniotic fluid around the time of delivery.
Expectant: Pregnant women who suffer from stress are 60 per cent more likely to have babies with health problems, according to researchers
Researchers from Princeton University analysed both birth records and meteorological information to find children born in Texas between 1996 and 2008 whose mothers were in the path of a major tropical storm or hurricane during pregnancy.
The results showed that mothers living within 30km (18.6miles) of a hurricane’s path during their third trimester were 60 per cent more likely to have a baby with abnormal conditions.
These conditions included being on a ventilator for more than half an hour or experiencing meconium aspiration.
An increased risk was also found following exposure to weather-related stress in the first trimester, while evidence was less clear for exposure in the second trimester.
The researchers believe the results could be down to an increase in stress hormones caused by the storm, which occurred in what is known as the neuroendocrine pathway.
Researchers analysed birth records and meteorological information to find children born in Texas between 1996 and 2008 whose mothers were in the path of a major tropical storm or hurricane during pregnancy
Professor Janet Currie, of Princeton University, said: 'Probably the most important finding of our study is that it does seem like being subjected to stress in pregnancy has some negative effect on the baby, but that the effect is more subtle than some of the previous studies have suggested.
'I think there’s every reason to believe that if you have a better measure of child health – like you knew this child was having breathing problems at birth – that might be a stronger predictor of longer-term outcomes.
'There’s a lot of interest in this whole area of how things that happen very early in life can affect future outcomes.
'I think the takeaway finding is that it’s worth doing more focused research on those pathways and looking for more subtle effects on the fetus than just looking at birth weight and preterm delivery.
'And it would be really great if we could follow over time and see what happens to children who are affected by these types of events.'
The study Is published in the National Bureau of Economic Research.