1. Study examines effect of supporting children’s negative emotions

    June 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Wiley press release:

    New research suggests that whereas mothers who are more supportive of their children’s negative emotions rate their children as being more socially skilled, these same children appear less socially adjusted when rated by teachers. Specifically, mothers’ supportive reactions predicted fewer socioemotional skills and more problem behaviors, according to children’s third-grade teachers.

    These contrasting patterns suggest a potential downside to mothers’ supportiveness of children’s negative emotions for third-grade children’s social adjustment in school.

    “It’s not clear if the parents are causing these problems by hovering or providing too much support when less support is needed, if the parents are rightfully providing more support because their children are experiencing these social and emotional problems, or if the children are exhibiting very different emotional and social behaviors at home than they are at school,” said Dr. Vanessa Castro, co-author of the Social Development study.

    The findings suggest that is may be helpful for parents to consider other strategies to guide their children to develop their own skills in emotion regulation and social interaction.


  2. MRI study links socioeconomic background to effectiveness of reading interventions

    June 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Massachusetts Institute of Technology press release:

    About 20 percent of children in the United States have difficulty learning to read, and educators have devised a variety of interventions to try to help them. Not every program helps every student, however, in part because the origins of their struggles are not identical.

    MIT neuroscientist John Gabrieli is trying to identify factors that may help to predict individual children’s responses to different types of reading interventions. As part of that effort, he recently found that children from lower-income families responded much better to a summer reading program than children from a higher socioeconomic background.

    Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the research team also found anatomical changes in the brains of children whose reading abilities improved — in particular, a thickening of the cortex in parts of the brain known to be involved in reading.

    “If you just left these children [with reading difficulties] alone on the developmental path they’re on, they would have terrible troubles reading in school. We’re taking them on a neuroanatomical detour that seems to go with real gains in reading ability,” says Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the senior author of the study.

    Rachel Romeo, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology, and Joanna Christodoulou, an assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions, are the lead authors of the paper, which appears in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

    Predicting improvement

    In hopes of identifying factors that influence children’s responses to reading interventions, the MIT team set up two summer schools based on a program known as Lindamood-Bell. The researchers recruited students from a wide income range, although socioeconomic status was not the original focus of their study.

    The Lindamood-Bell program focuses on helping students develop the sensory and cognitive processing necessary for reading, such as thinking about words as units of sound, and translating printed letters into word meanings.

    Children participating in the study, who ranged from 6 to 9 years old, spent four hours a day, five days a week in the program, for six weeks. Before and after the program, their brains were scanned with MRI and they were given some commonly used tests of reading proficiency.

    In tests taken before the program started, children from higher and lower socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds fared equally poorly in most areas, with one exception. Children from higher SES backgrounds had higher vocabulary scores, which has also been seen in studies comparing nondyslexic readers from different SES backgrounds.

    “There’s a strong trend in these studies that higher SES families tend to talk more with their kids and also use more complex and diverse language. That tends to be where the vocabulary correlation comes from,” Romeo says.

    The researchers also found differences in brain anatomy before the reading program started. Children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds had thicker cortex in a part of the brain known as Broca’s area, which is necessary for language production and comprehension. The researchers also found that these differences could account for the differences in vocabulary levels between the two groups.

    Based on a limited number of previous studies, the researchers hypothesized that the reading program would have more of an impact on the students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. But in fact, they found the opposite. About half of the students improved their scores, while the other half worsened or stayed the same. When analyzing the data for possible explanations, family income level was the one factor that proved significant.

    “Socioeconomic status just showed up as the piece that was most predictive of treatment response,” Romeo says.

    The same children whose reading scores improved also displayed changes in their brain anatomy. Specifically, the researchers found that they had a thickening of the cortex in a part of the brain known as the temporal occipital region, which comprises a large network of structures involved in reading.

    “Mix of causes”

    The researchers believe that their results may have been different than previous studies of reading intervention in low SES students because their program was run during the summer, rather than during the school year.

    “Summer is when socioeconomic status takes its biggest toll. Low SES kids typically have less academic content in their summer activities compared to high SES, and that results in a slump in their skills,” Romeo says. “This may have been particularly beneficial for them because it may have been out of the realm of their typical summer.”

    The researchers also hypothesize that reading difficulties may arise in slightly different ways among children of different SES backgrounds.

    “There could be a different mix of causes,” Gabrieli says. “Reading is a complicated skill, so there could be a number of different factors that would make you do better or do worse. It could be that those factors are a little bit different in children with more enriched or less enriched environments.”

    The researchers are hoping to identify more precisely the factors related to socioeconomic status, other environmental factors, or genetic components that could predict which types of reading interventions will be successful for individual students.

    “In medicine, people call it personalized medicine: this idea that some people will really benefit from one intervention and not so much from another,” Gabrieli says. “We’re interested in understanding the match between the student and the kind of educational support that would be helpful for that particular student.”


  3. Epigenetic changes at birth could explain later behavior problems

    June 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the King’s College London press release:

    Epigenetic changes present at birth — in genes related to addiction and aggression — could be linked to conduct problems in children, according to a new study by King’s College London and the University of Bristol.

    Conduct problems (CP) such as fighting, lying and stealing are the most common reason for child treatment referral in the UK, costing an estimated £22 billion per year. Children who develop conduct problems before the age of 10 (known as early-onset CP) are at a much higher risk for severe and chronic antisocial behaviour across the lifespan, resulting in further social costs related to crime, welfare dependence and health-care needs.

    Genetic factors are known to strongly influence conduct problems, explaining between 50-80 per cent of the differences between children who develop problems and those who do not. However, little is known about how genetic factors interact with environmental influences — especially during fetal development — to increase the risk for later conduct problems.

    Understanding changes in DNA methylation, an epigenetic process that regulates how genes are ‘switched on and off’, could aid the development of more effective approaches to preventing later conduct problems.

    The study, published in Development & Psychopathology, used data from Bristol’s Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to examine associations between DNA methylation at birth and conduct problems from the ages of four to 13.

    The researchers also measured the influence of environmental factors previously linked to early onset of conduct problems, including maternal diet, smoking, alcohol use and exposure to stressful life events.

    They found that at birth, epigenetic changes in seven sites across children’s DNA differentiated those who went on to develop early-onset versus those who did not. Some of these epigenetic differences were associated with prenatal exposures, such as smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy.

    One of the genes which showed the most significant epigenetic changes, called MGLL, is known to play a role in reward, addiction and pain perception. This is notable as previous research suggests conduct problems are often accompanied by substance abuse, and there is also evidence indicating that some people who engage in antisocial lifestyles show higher pain tolerance. The researchers also found smaller differences in a number of genes previously associated with aggression and antisocial behaviour, including MAOA.

    Dr Edward Barker, senior author from King’s College London, said: ‘We know that children with early-onset conduct problems are much more likely to engage in antisocial behaviour as adults, so this is clearly a very important group to look at from a societal point of view.

    ‘There is good evidence that exposure to maternal smoking and alcohol is associated with developmental problems in children, yet we don’t know how increased risk for conduct problems occurs. These results suggest that epigenetic changes taking place in the womb are a good place to start.’

    Dr Charlotte Cecil, first author from King’s College London, said: ‘Our study reveals significant epigenetic changes which differentiate children who go on to develop conduct problems and those who don’t. Although these findings do not prove causation, they do highlight the neonatal period as a potentially important window of biological vulnerability, as well as pinpointing novel genes for future investigation.

    ‘Given that the postnatal environment is also crucial for children’s development, future research should examine whether positive environmental experiences can help to modify these epigenetic changes.’


  4. Quality of early family relationships affects children’s affect regulation

    June 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland) press release:

    The birth of a child is often a long-awaited and deeply meaningful event for the parents. However, the transition to parenthood also forces the parents to revise their interparental romantic relationship and to answer the new questions arising from parenthood. At the same time as the parents learn how to cope with the new situation, the infant undergoes one of the most intense developmental periods in human life. Previous attachment research has demonstrated the importance of the mother-infant relationship to children’s emotional development, but there is still relatively little research on the role of fathers, the marital relationship and the family as a whole.

    This doctoral study in the field of psychology set out to investigate, firstly, how families change and reorganise during the transition to parenthood and, secondly, the consequences the early family relationships have on children’s emotional development in middle childhood. More specifically, the aim was to study the effects of early family relationships on children’s emotion regulation, psychological defense mechanisms, and the related biases in their social-emotional information processing (i.e. attention biases to emotional facial expressions). In all, 710 Finnish families participated in the longitudinal study conducted during pregnancy, at the child’s ages of two and twelve months and in middle childhood.

    As a central result of the dissertation, seven unique family system types were identified using statistical analyses. The family system types were called cohesive (35 %), authoritarian (14 %), enmeshed (with declining 6 % and quadratic 5 % subtypes), escalating crisis (4 %), disengaged (5 %) and discrepant (15 %). Despite the uniqueness of each family type, the problematic family types predicted children’s inefficient emotion regulation in middle childhood in a similar way.

    Difficulties in emotion regulation also explained why the problematic family types increased the children’s depressive symptoms indicating that family-related difficulties in managing their own negative emotions pose a risk for the children’s mental health. Furthermore, children who had grown in problematic families relied more on psychological defence mechanisms (e.g. denied their own painful emotions and blamed others instead). Family-related alterations in affect regulation were also present in the laboratory experiment: children from enmeshed families tended to direct their attention towards threat-provoking stimuli (i.e. angry facial expressions) whereas children from disengaged families tended to defensively avoid such information.

    Altogether, the results support the theoretical viewpoint that children adapt their affect regulation to fit the demands of their family environment. This may be based on both psychodynamic processes and the effects of the children’s stress regulation system, which has been developed during the evolutionary process. The family as a whole is important for the development of children’s emotion regulation. Therefore, mothers and fathers as well as the interparental romantic relationship and parenting should be considered in health services directed to parents-to-be. Finally, it is noteworthy that the early family relationships accounted for at the most only 10 % of the children’s affect regulation in middle childhood. The relatively modest size of this effect corresponds to the results of previous longitudinal studies.

    The findings of this seven-year longitudinal study shed more light on the understanding of early family dynamics and on the identification of early family related risks. The knowledge may also help to develop focused therapeutic interventions for children who have experienced early family problems and suffer from depressive symptoms. Such children may benefit from strengthening the experience of emotional security, learning more efficient emotion regulation and interventions to correct their biases in the processing of social-emotional information.


  5. Fatherhood factors influence how dads spend time with children

    June 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the New York University press release:

    A father’s resources, relationships, and parenting beliefs affect how he spends time with his children and financially provides for his family, finds a study led by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

    The findings are published online in the Journal of Family Issues.

    “We found a range of different characteristics influenced father involvement in unique ways, from caregiving to financial investment. For example, what predicted how often fathers read to their children was not only their level of education, but also their beliefs about gender roles in the family,” said Tamarie Macon, assistant professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author.

    “The bottom line: Both structural circumstances and fathers’ personal beliefs matter.”

    Researchers tend to focus on two primary ways that parents invest in their children: time and money. What determines how — and how much — a father invests in his children? The current study examined whether and how a father’s income and education levels, relationships at home, and views on parenting related to a father’s involvement, as measured by time spent with children in a variety of activities as well as financial investment.

    Participants for the study were drawn from the Early Head Start Father Involvement with Toddlers Study. A total of 478 ethnically and racially diverse low-income fathers were included.

    Researchers visited fathers in their homes when their children were 2 years old and gathered information on fathers’ demographic and personal characteristics, including age, race/ethnicity, and resources as measured by income and education levels.

    The researchers also asked a series of questions about activities fathers do with their children, the father-mother relationship, and personal parenting beliefs.

    Fathers reported how often they spent time with their children in 33 different activities, including play, caregiving activities like preparing meals, cognitive activities like reading stories to a child, and social activities like visiting friends and family.

    With regard to their relationships, fathers were asked if they live at home, what their relationship is like with the child’s mother, and whether the couple is often in conflict. Prior research shows that the quality of the father-mother relationship is associated with a father’s involvement with his kids, and conflict between parents can result in decreased involvement.

    Finally, fathers were asked about their feelings on whether men should be their family’s financial provider, the importance of investing in children to positively influence their development, and beliefs about traditional gender norms.

    The researchers’ analysis found that a father’s resources — education and money — were linked to different forms of involvement in different ways. More educated fathers spent more time with their children in caregiving and cognitive activities, but less time in social activities. Fathers with higher incomes were more involved in taking their children to religious services but less involved in infrequent activities like going to the zoo or a museum.

    While previous research has found a negative association between income and engagement, this study suggests that rather than overall father involvement decreasing with greater income, income may relate positively to some aspects of involvement and negatively to others.

    “For instance, higher-income fathers may have more availability on the weekends versus the workweek and focus their involvement on weekend activities, such as attending religious services,” Macon said. “Separating education and income as two aspects of father resources, which are often combined into a single measure of socioeconomic status, revealed differential associations with father investment of time and finances.”

    Not surprisingly, the researchers found that fathers who live with their children spent more time with them across several activities, and disagreements between fathers and mothers were negatively associated with fathers financially providing for their families.

    Fathers’ beliefs about parenting also influenced parenting behaviors. Fathers who believed their role as financial provider to be highly important reported more financial provision, whereas fathers who reported investment in their children’s development to be highly important were more involved in caregiving. Finally, fathers who endorsed traditional gender norms participated in less caregiving and cognitive activities.

    “Fathers’ views of their role related to specific aspects of their involvement beyond resources, relationships, and demographic characteristics,” said Macon. “Our results reaffirm the importance of designing parenting interventions that consider fathers’ beliefs and values, not solely their parenting knowledge and skills.”


  6. Social support more important to mothers

    June 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Örebro Universitet press release:

    For mothers who feel that they are not in control of certain aspects of life and who are struggling with their relationship to their teenage children, social support may make a great difference. But the same does not seem to apply to fathers in the same situation, a new study published in Family Process shows.

    “Parenting teenagers is not always easy. We wanted to look at what may make it easier to be a warm and positive parent with appropriate rules for teenage children,” says Terese Glatz, researcher in social work at Örebro University. The study was undertaken in collaboration with colleagues in the US.

    The study shows that parents who feel they are in control of their lives and parenthood are more consistent and better at setting boundaries. Parents with a social support network maintain a warmer relationship with their children compared to parents who are more isolated. The sense of control and a social network thus affect parents in different ways.

    The next step of the study involved researchers taking a closer look at what can be done to help parents who feel that they are not in control of their lives. That is when they discovered a difference between mothers and fathers.

    A social support network proved to be a help to mothers in their parenting role. The support may involve help of a practical nature, such as baby sitting, as well as emotional support in the sense of having somebody who listens to you when you are having a hard time. For mothers who feel they are not in control of their lives, social support can help them build a better relationship with their children.”

    “Social support in times when you feel you are not in control, may help reduce stress and mothers are able to act in a more positive way towards their children,” says Terese Glatz.

    But for the fathers in the study who expressed a sense of not being in control of their lives, social support did not help the situation.

    “Therefore, we need to focus our efforts in different directions for mothers and fathers who are having a hard time. Support activities for fathers may perhaps need to focus specifically on how they can regain a sense of control, while the efforts in helping mothers may entail support in expanding their social network.”


  7. Study suggests parents’ outlook on life can influence children’s behaviour

    June 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Most parents will agree that children present a never-ending series of behavioral challenges. Tantrums, picky eating and poor sleeping behavior are often cited as the more stressful part of raising a child. How parents deal with these challenges determines a child’s physical, psychological and emotional development. But could something as simple as your outlook on life determine how you deal with and overcome these parenting challenges?

    This question has been asked by a new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology and found that a parent’s outlook on life can have a profound influence on the behavior of their child.

    “We find that the greater the degree of externality (the belief that there is little or no connection between what we do and what happens to us) rather than internality (the belief that what happens to us is connected to what we do) of parents before children are born, the greater the likelihood that children will have greater difficulties in behaving, sleeping and eating during their first five years of life,” says Stephen Nowicki, Professor of Psychology at the Emory University, Atlanta, USA. “This can be explained by the behavior of internally controlled parents, which are characterized by what is called the Big 5; that is their (1) persistence, (2) feeling of responsibility, (3) pursuit of information, (4) ability to tolerate a longer delay of gratification, and (5) resistance to being coerced.”

    This study took advantage of the detailed information collected on over 10,000 preschool children and their parents taking part in the ALSPAC study in the UK, also known as ‘Children of the 90s’. Professor Jean Golding, co-author of the study, and her team from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, sent questionnaires to thousands of pregnant women to obtain information about their personalities and attitudes.

    They followed this up by asking these women about their prenatal preparation and the behavior of the child between 6 and 57 months old. Professor Golding’s team acknowledge that this research could not have been undertaken without the voluntary cooperation of all the participants and the funding from the John Templeton Foundation.

    Initially the researchers found that women with external traits, who believe there is little or no connection between what they do and what happens to them, were less likely to attend parenting classes, less likely to breast feed and less likely to ensure their child was fully immunized by 6 months of age.

    In addition, the researchers examined the personality and attitude of the father, to see if this had any influence. “Being able to assess the impact of internality and externality of each partner helps to identify the relative impact and contribution of mothers’ and fathers’ prenatal locus of control to their child’s future adjustment,” explains Professor Nowicki. “It is apparent from our findings that it doesn’t matter which parent is internal, if one of them, father or mother, is internal then it increases the positive effect on children’s social, eating and/or sleeping behavior.”

    It is hoped these findings will guide programs to reduce externality and increase internality in parents, enabling them to interact more positively with their children and reduce problems in behavior, eating and sleeping. “We believe that prenatal education programs need to educate parents on how to become more internal before the child is born” says Professor Nowicki.

    Further research hopes to examine if these effects are seen in older children. “The next logical step is to see if prenatal parental locus of control continues to influence children’s lives when they begin to attend school. If we find that the degree of prenatal parent externality is related to children’s social and academic adjustment, then it suggests intervention at the school level might be helpful to change children toward internality, which is known to protect against psychological stresses. It can also provide teachers with structured programs of instruction within which externals have been found to operate more effectively,” concludes Professor Nowicki.

    For further information on this interesting topic, Professor Nowicki has written a book, Choice or Chance, in which he describes how the locus of control (a person’s external or internal viewpoint) develops and its impact on personal, social, academic and athletic performance. In Choice or Chance, he presents a review of what is known about how to help change the locus of control orientation in children and parents. Since this is learned and not fixed, we can apply what we know about how it originates and develops to changing or strengthening locus of control.


  8. Study suggests storytime can give children a cognitive boost

    June 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center press release:

    While reading to children has many benefits, simply speaking the words aloud may not be enough to improve cognitive development in preschoolers.

    A new international study, published in the journal PLOS ONE and led by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, shows that engaging with children while reading books to them gives their brain a cognitive “boost.”

    Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) found significantly greater brain activation in 4-year-old children who were more highly engaged during story listening, suggesting a novel improvement mechanism of engagement and understanding. The study reinforces the value of “dialogic reading,” where the child is encouraged to actively participate.

    “The takeaway for parents in this study is that they should engage more when reading with their child, ask questions, have them turn the page, and interact with each other,” said John Hutton, MD, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s and lead author of the study. “In turn, this could fuel brain activation–or “turbocharge” the development of literacy skills, particularly comprehension, in preschool aged children.”

    The study involved functional MRI scans of 22 girls, age 4, to explore the relationship between engagement and verbal interactivity during a mother-child reading observation and neural activation and connectivity during a story listening task. Children exhibiting greater interest in the narrative showed increased activation in right-sided cerebellar areas of the brain, thought to support cognitive skill acquisition and refinement via connection to language, association and executive function areas.

    “Our findings underscore the importance of interventions explicitly addressing both parent and child reading engagement, including awareness and reduction of distractions such as cellphones, which were the most common preventable barrier that we observed,” said Hutton.

    Hutton says long-term studies are needed beginning in infancy to better understand mother-child factors contributing to healthy brain development and literacy skills, as this current study does not establish causation.


  9. Family support moderates college students’ feelings of loneliness

    by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    When college students feel isolated and disconnected, support from family members can keep them from harming themselves during difficult times, according to a new University of Michigan study.

    “Parents can serve as a first-line of defense in efforts to prevent or reduce the risk of suicide in students,” said Edward Chang, the study’s lead author and a professor of psychology and social work.

    The study consisted of 456 Hungarian college students whose ages ranged from 18 to 35.

    Respondents rated the frequency of feeling isolated and the extent of family support. To assess for suicide risk, respondents indicated if they felt depressed or had suicidal thoughts during the past 12 months.

    When lonely students had high family support, they had fewer depressive symptoms compared to those with lower family support, the study found. The same results were found for those who thought about suicide–that family support provided a small but significant improvement from following through on self-harm.

    The findings, the researchers said, point to strategies to reduce heightened suicide risk in college students. For instance, parents might be trained to look for and identify early signs of risks, such as social isolation. Families must also get counselors involved to create more positive environments for students that may be at risk for suicide.

    Chang said the key is that as children grow up and out of the house, it’s important for parents to remain invested in the health of their child.

    “Going away to college does not mean that young emerging adults have sufficiently established a strong social support network or cultivated the sort of coping strategies to deal with their new roles as college students,” he said. “Parents represent a child’s foundation for support and growth.”

    And since parents and college students often are out of daily physical interactions, both parties would likely benefit from routinely letting each other know that they remain on their minds, he said.

    The findings appear in the Family Journal. The study’s other researchers were Olivia Chang, Tamás Martos, Viola Sallay, Jerin Lee, Kayla Stam, Casey Batterbee and Tina Yu.


  10. Too much stress for the mother affects the baby through amniotic fluid

    June 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Zürich press release:

    If the mother is stressed over a longer period of time during pregnancy, the concentration of stress hormones in amniotic fluid rises, as proven by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Zurich. Short-term stress situations, however, do not seem to have an unfavorable effect on the development of the fetus.

    The feeling of constantly being on edge, always having to take care of everything, not being able to find a balance: If an expectant mother is strongly stressed over a longer period of time, the risk of the unborn child developing a mental or physical illness later in life — such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or cardiovascular disease — increases. The precise mechanism of how stress affects the baby in the womb is not yet been completely clarified. In cooperation with the University Hospital Zurich and the Max Planck Institute Munich, researchers of the University of Zurich have discovered that physical stress to the mother can change the metabolism in the placenta and influence the growth of the unborn child.

    Stress hormone affects the growth of the fetus

    When stressed, the human body releases hormones to handle the higher stress, such as the so-called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which results in an increase in stress hormone cortisol. This mechanism also persists during pregnancy, and the placenta, which supplies the fetus with nutrients, can also emit stress hormone CRH. As a result, a small amount of this hormone enters the amniotic fluid and fetal metabolism. Animal studies have shown that this hormone can boost the development of the unborn child: Unfavorable growth conditions in the woman lead to an increased release of the hormone, thereby improving the chances of survival in case of a premature birth. Under certain circumstances, however, this increase can also have negative consequences: “An excessive acceleration of growth may occur at the expense of the proper maturation of the organs,” says Ulrike Ehlert, psychologist and program coordinator.

    Short-term stress — no effect

    How does mental stress to the mother affect the release of stress hormones in the placenta? The research team tested 34 healthy pregnant women, who took part in amniocentesis within the scope of prenatal diagnostics. Such a test constitutes a stress situation for the expectant mother as her body secretes cortisol in the short term. To determine whether the placenta also releases stress hormones, the researchers compared the cortisol level in the mother’s saliva with the CRH level in the amniotic fluid — and determined that there was no connection: “The baby obviously remains protected against negative effects in case of acute, short-term stress to the mother,” Ehlert concludes.

    Longer-term stress can be measured in amniotic fluid

    The situation of the results regarding prolonged stress is completely different, as was determined using questionnaires for diagnosing chronic social overload: “If the mother is stressed for a longer period of time, the CRH level in the amniotic fluid increases,” says Pearl La Marca-Ghaemmaghami, psychologist and program researcher. This higher concentration of stress hormone in turn accelerates the growth of the fetus. As a result, the effect of the hormone on growth is confirmed, as has been observed in animals such as tadpoles: If their pond is on the verge of drying out, CRH is released in tadpoles, thereby driving their metamorphosis. “The corticotropin-releasing hormone CRH obviously plays a complex and dynamic role in the development of the human fetus, which needs to be better understood,” La Marca-Ghaemmaghami summarizes.

    Strengthening mental resources with specialized help

    The psychologists advise pregnant women who are exposed to longer-term stress situations to “seek support from a therapist to handle the stress better.” Stress during pregnancy cannot always be avoided, however. “A secure bond between the mother and child after the birth can neutralize negative effects of stress during pregnancy,” La Marca-Ghaemmaghami says.