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New Moms Can Take the Stress

Rat study finds they're more resistant to adversity

FRIDAY, Nov. 14, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- The joys of motherhood may come with stress-protection benefits.

New mothers are calmer under pressure and better able to deal with adversity, says a study by researchers at Rutgers University.

Researchers found that female rats in the postpartum period are less anxious and more resistant to stress than females without babies.

"Our results demonstrated that postpartum female rats show very different and unique responses to stress compared to females without reproductive and maternal experience," researcher Tracey Shors, a psychology professor, says in a prepared statement.

When exposed to stress, virgin rats suffered increased anxiety and a severe decrease in learning ability. But stress didn't affect learning or anxiety behavior in rats with new offspring.

The researchers suggest some cognitive and emotional responses to stress may be suppressed during the postpartum period.

"It is probably good for new mothers to be able to learn effectively regardless of life stressors, especially when it comes to taking care of their young. Our results show that the female response to stressful experience is dynamic and can change dramatically during different stages of reproductive life," Shors says.

The research, presented this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans, may help lead to a better understanding of mental illness in humans.

Examining the effects of stress on cognitive and emotional functioning during various stages of reproductive life may help scientists learn more about the reasons for the high incidence of mental illness in women, especially postpartum depression and psychosis.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about women and mental health.

SOURCE: Rutgers University, news release, Nov. 10, 2003
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