Prenatal stress, neurodevelopment, and birth outcomes

A study suggests that different types of maternal stress are associated with specific offspring health outcomes. The importance of the in utero environment for future offspring health is well established, but the types of maternal stress that influence offspring health and underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. Catherine Monk and colleagues examined 27 indicators of psychosocial, physical, and lifestyle stress in 187 otherwise healthy pregnant women, ages 18-45 years. Babies born to physically stressed mothers, with elevated blood pressure and caloric intake, were born 1.5 weeks earlier on average and were more likely to be born preterm than those born to unstressed mothers. Offspring of physically stressed mothers also had reduced fetal heart rate-movement coupling, an indicator of neurodevelopment, compared with unstressed mothers. Babies born to psychologically stressed mothers, with elevated levels of perceived stress, depression, and anxiety, had more birth complications than those born to physically stressed mothers. The male-to-female ratio of babies born was significantly lower among physically stressed mothers than among unstressed mothers. Indices of social support differed significantly among the 3 groups and the likelihood of having a male baby increased with increasing social support. The results suggest that maternal stress profiles are associated with male vulnerability and adverse fetal outcomes, and identify social support as a potential target for clinical intervention to improve offspring health, according to the authors.


Article #19-05890: “Maternal prenatal stress phenotypes associate with fetal neurodevelopment and birth outcomes,” by Kate Walsh et al.

MEDIA CONTACT: Catherine Monk, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, New York, NY; tel: 917-543-6031; e-mail:

; Alexandra Simpson, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY; e-mail:

This part of information is sourced from

Catherine Monk

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