Change in Mother’s Mental State Can Influence Her Baby’s Development Before and After Birth

As a fetus grows, it’s constantly getting messages from its mother. It’s not just hearing her heartbeat and whatever music she might play to her belly; it also gets chemical signals through the placenta. A new study, which will be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that this includes signals about the mother’s mental state. If the mother is depressed, that affects how the baby develops after it’s born.

In recent decades, researchers have found that the environment a fetus is growing up in—the mother’s womb—is very important. Some effects are obvious. Smoking and drinking, for example, can be devastating. But others are subtler; studies have found that people who were born during the Dutch famine of 1944, most of whom had starving mothers, were likely to have health problems like obesity and diabetes later.

Curt A. Sandman, Elysia P. Davis, and Laura M. Glynn of the University of California-Irvine study how the mother’s psychological state affects a developing fetus. For this study, they recruited pregnant women and checked them for depression before and after they gave birth. They also gave their babies tests after they were born to see how well they were developing.

They found something interesting: what mattered to the babies was if the environment was consistent before and after birth. That is, the babies who did best were those who either had mothers who were healthy both before and after birth, and those whose mothers were depressed before birth and stayed depressed afterward. What slowed the babies’ development was changing conditions—a mother who went from depressed before birth to healthy after or healthy before birth to depressed after. “We must admit, the strength of this finding surprised us,” Sandman says.

Now, the cynical interpretation of our results would be that if a mother is depressed before birth, you should leave her that way for the well-being of the infant. “A more reasonable approach would be, to treat women who present with prenatal depression.   Sandman says. “We know how to deal with depression.” The problem is, women are rarely screened for depression before birth.

In the long term, having a depressed mother could lead to neurological problems and psychiatric disorders, Sandman says. In another study, his team found that older children whose mothers were anxious during pregnancy, which often is co morbid with depression, have differences in certain brain structures. It will take studies lasting decades to figure out exactly what having a depressed mother means to a child’s long-term health.

“We believe that the human fetus is an active participant in its own development and is collecting information for life after birth,” Sandman says. “It’s preparing for life based on messages the mom is providing.”

Comments

Ok so that was the baby feel when the mother is crying..

I am the clinically depressed son of a woman who had suffered a still born child birth prior to my birth with no environmental (abuse etc) reasons for me to be depressed…..but suddenly this makes a lot of sense for me. My mother would have been riddled with grief while pregnant and probably just hid it very well in a stoic fashion. Thanks..this has helped me a lot.

Are woman more sensitive during pregnancy and more rational

I see… No wonder I grew up being over sensitive and emotional. Before my mother was pregnant with me, her previous child died shortly after birth, and it may give rise to her deep anxiety and grief… Makes sense

My mother too had a child who drowned 2 years before I was conceived. She shut down her grief to survive with 3 others to cope with. My character adapted- just about, but I am still fighting to lead a fuller, less risk averse life. Aged 64.

My mother was very stressed, l was being carried in a war. She used a lot of alcohol to cope. When l was born, she had no interest in my, never touched me, weaned & gave me away at 2 months, to a ‘needy gran’, whose needy touch overwhelmed & shut me down touch my entire life. I live in ear-plugs, due to sirens shocking me awake!

I’m the youngest of 4 siblings. My mother accidentally got pregnant with me in the 60s and wanted an abortion which at the time was illegal. Having another child would put a huge strain on the family dynamics and finances so my mother tried several self abortion potions, some sold to her by gypsies. My earliest memories of my mother was her shouting/slapping me and crying a lot. During my early teens she tried to commit suicide. As you can imagine my childhood wasn’t good and I constantly felt insecure, I’m now close to 60 and when I look back at my disastrous life, I sit and think where did it all start to go wrong so finding these blogs has at least helped me understand the impact mothers have on our early and later development.

This article has shown me I was probably correct to think a mother’s feelings affect her foetus’s personality, though of course, genetic traits are obvious as well. I’m glad to see it has been researched! I came to the conclusion there was a link after comparing the characters of myself & 4 sisters with my mother’s likely state of mind during the pregnancies, having discussed a lot of it; my older sister is very socially outgoing & company dependent, happy to be directed in work activities & a free spender, coinciding with the newly married state & mother’s separation from her friends, but working with new ones in various jobs. As second born, coinciding with the onset of restricted income,social life, (no spare money,non-driver mother,no relatives to help & a husband demanding exacting accounting & domestic work) I have always been very careful with income, hated maths & housework, dislike being watched or judged in activities, very analytical,but very independent. The no.3 child, carried during a similar atmosphere, but with more socialising (new home)& then the prospect of moving a very long distance to Father’s exciting new job, has always been very sociable & talkative, very strong-minded, dotes on babies & has worked abroad with children all her life. The 4th child was carried during a period of somewhat improved income & status, with developing confidence in self but lacking social outings & was unplanned. This child has been very social, determined to succeed, very ambitious, & career most important. The fifth/last child was born into a big family, carried with a final (dashed)hope of a son, my father being involved in various sports, mother with her hands tied with house & garden work & kids; this last sister grew up very sociable,outspoken,very determined to be in control of situations, & succeeded in a highly responsible public service form of work. All had children, except me,(by choice).All of us acquired her love of gardening-probably the place she felt happiest while pregnant..We all grew up in the same village, same schools, though only the last 2 were born there. It’s difficult to assess ‘results’ as they vary between opposite and similar to the experienced lifestyle factors.

So if mother is emotionally and physically abused during her pregnancy and she is under a lot of stress, could that affect her baby later in his/her life, emotionally and intellectually?

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