Can stress in pregnancy lead to premature birth? According to a recent study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology and carried out by researchers at the University of California, there is a correlation between premature birth and maternal stress which cannot be underestimated in order to better understand the causes that lead to the birth of premature babies, but also of the premature aging that some people undergo.
The link has been deepened by various researches, not least what is called “Prenatal maternal stress prospectively relates to shorter child buccal cell telomere length” which explores, from a genetic point of view, the modifications that stress can generate on the fetus not only immediately, but also with respect to the speed with which the child will subsequently age from a biological point of view. In fact, the research aims to answer the question: why do some people age faster? And how can maternal stress, in addition to causing premature birth, accelerate that baby’s aging once it becomes an adult?
The American study puts the spotlight on a phenomenon, that of premature aging, which according to the researchers has a lot to do with prematurity. But not only that: in turn the premature babies could have a link with the mental health of the mother and in particular with the stress values during pregnancy. Values that not only have short-term effects on the serenity of the gestation period, but also in the long term.
The researchers sought to focus their attention on the maternal environment and factors that influence when a baby is born. The focus of the study is the analysis of telomere, a small piece of DNA found at the end of chromosomes and which protects their ends. The length of the telomere shortens in relation to high maternal stress values during pregnancy: in turn this reduced measure, as the researchers suggest, implies complications in the third trimester of pregnancy and also the tendency to age earlier and suffer from cardiovascular diseases for the child.
The study followed 111 mothers, from the preconception stages to the early years of their babies. A complex path that aimed above all at understanding, in the long term, how children (and the length of their telomere) could influence their growth. Stress values were measured on these mothers involved while the babies were still in the womb. The result is that the higher the stress value, the shorter telomere tends to be. The hypotheses are many and point to understanding how maternal stress can influence the cellular aging of the baby and even induce a preterm birth. The hypotheses of the researchers suggest that stress, by activating a sort of inflammatory state in the body, tends in the long term to damage DNA, of which the telomere is the most delicate and manipulable part of all. In the process of development of the fetus, cell replication occurs at a rapid pace and there are therefore greater chances that these cells are damaged in the delicate stages of the baby’s growth.
Consequences of maternal stress on premature births
The same Californian study group then tried to understand if there are correlations between premature birth and maternal stress, once again by analyzing the environmental and psychological factors of the women involved. A previous study by the University of Cincinnati (“Associations Between Maternal Lifetime Stress and Placental Mitochondrial DNA Mutations in an Urban Multiethnic Cohort”) published in the Biological Psychiatry Journal had already explored the relationship between these two values, confirming their veracity.
And confirmation also came from the UCLA study group, which verified the correlation between high levels of maternal stress in pregnancy and even years before conception and preterm birth. Women who experience a period that is too stressful tend to give birth earlier, according to these insights: basically at least a week (or more) of the DPP.
The most interesting discovery, in this sense, is that relating to preconception period: the researchers in fact noticed that those who found themselves in a difficult period before conceiving a child arrived at birth in worse psychological conditions, even if the situation had been resolved for some time. According to experts, this involves a lesser or greater ability to manage anxiety and stress that affects the fetus, as well as the maternal mental well-being. Both the Cincinnati and Californian researchers therefore arrived at the same conclusion: only a tight control of the maternal psychophysical state of health from the very early stages of gestation (but also in the preconceptional period), can reduce or at least identify stress, thus favoring chain of positive events not only for the woman but also for the baby she carries in her womb.
Sources for the article: Psychoneuroendocrinology, “Prenatal maternal stress prospectively relates to shorter child buccal cell telomere length”; Biological Psychiatry, “Associations Between Maternal Lifetime Stress and Placental Mitochondrial DNA Mutations in an Urban Multiethnic Cohort”