It is well known that high stress during pregnancy is not good for mother as well as for the baby. But a new study suggests that moderate stress can boost foetal brain development.
Previous studies in rodents have shown that stress during pregnancy inhibits neural growth, while the kids of women who lived in war zones during pregnancy have a greater risk of developing schizophrenia.
In the new study, Janet DiPietro and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, investigated the effects of moderate stress in humans, reports New Scientist.
They examined 112 healthy pregnant women living in the US three times during their third trimester. They asked the women about their stress levels and recorded foetal movements. They also examined the babies two weeks after birth.
The researchers found that women with higher stress levels during pregnancy had babies that moved around more in the womb.
After birth, these babies scored higher on a brain maturation test, although they were more irritable. More active fetuses had better control of body movements after birth.
The stress hormone cortisol plays a role in brain maturation, which may help explain the result.
The study has been published in Child Development.