Stress During Pregnancy Linked to Smaller Babies

Cortisol may help transmit mom's anxiety to fetus, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 27, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Stressed-out pregnant women may carry smaller-than-average babies, a new study finds.

In findings published in the September-October issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers from the University of Miami School of Medicine studied 98 women who were 16 to 29 weeks pregnant.

The women completed questionnaires that measured their levels of distress from daily hassles, depression and anxiety. The women also underwent ultrasounds to measure their fetuses, and they provided urine samples to measure levels of stress-linked hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine.

The researchers found that the fetuses of the mothers with higher rates of depression, anxiety and stress weighed less and were smaller than average.

In addition, cortisol levels were linked to the weight of the fetus, indicating that cortisol may be a potential mechanism for transmitting a mother's stress to her unborn baby.

"One of the things this research highlights is that if you are pregnant and under extreme amounts of stress or feeling depressed, you should talk with your doctor about ways of treating these conditions during pregnancy," study author Miguel A. Diego said in a prepared statement.

More information

The National Women's Health Information Center has more about pregnancy.

SOURCE: Health Behavior News Service, news release, Sept. 22, 2006
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