Scientists at the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, and King's College London, have found that mothers who stroke their baby's body in the first few weeks after birth may change the effects that stress during pregnancy can have on an infant's early-life development.
Researchers world-wide have been studying whether stress in pregnancy can lead to emotional and behavioural problems in children for many years. Attention is now moving towards how parents might alter these effects after birth. Researchers are aiming to improve understanding of the issues to help enhance information services for pregnant women and their partners.
Reverse effects of prenatal stress
Scientists believe that stress in pregnancy can have an effect on an infant in later life by reducing the activity of genes that play a role in stress response. Studies of early care-giving in rats have found that high levels of mothers' licking and grooming their pups soon after birth can increase the activity of these genes and may reverse the effects of prenatal stress on their offspring.
''The eventual aim is to find out whether we should recommend that mothers who have been stressed during pregnancy should be encouraged to stroke their babies early in life''
Some studies suggest that impacts of prenatal stress on an infant's development can be either positive or negative depending on the type of environment a child encounters. It is thought that some children may experience the effects through being more prone to high levels of fear or anger.
The team at Liverpool, Manchester and London followed first-time mothers from pregnancy through to the first years of their children's lives as part of Medical Research Council (MRC) funded research, The Wirral Child Health and Development Study.