When A Baby Experiences High Levels Of Cortisol In Utero, Her Cognitive Development Can Be Slower. However, When The Baby And Mom Develop A Secure Attachment, Development Occurs Normally.
When a baby experiences high levels of cortisol - the stress hormone - during her mom's pregnancy, her cognitive development can be slower. However, when the baby and mom develop a secure attachment, development occurs normally.
...or at least stress hormones from pregnancyWhen a baby experiences high levels of cortisol - the stress hormone - during her mom's pregnancy, her cognitive development can be slower. She may have more trouble paying attention or solving problems. However, research recently published in Biological Psychiatry also shows that when the baby and mom form a secure attachment, development occurs normally. This is the first study that both links stress and cognitive development and shows that the effects of stress can be negated through a healthy attachment. Study specifics:
- 125 women
- Average gestation at beginning of study: 17 weeks
- Cortisol levels measured through an amniocentesis
- Normal, healthy deliveries
- Babies tested for cognitive function at 17 months old
With cortisol levels, relationship quality results, and cognition scores in hand, researchers analyzed how the first two measures might influence the third. Indeed, for children showing "insecure attachment" to their mothers, a high prenatal cortisol level was linked with shorter attention spans and weaker language and problem-solving skills. But interestingly, for kids who enjoyed secure relationships with their moms, any negative link between high prenatal cortisol exposure and kids' cognitive development was eliminated. (Source)This is great news, right? Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can't completely control our stress levels. Furthermore, pregnancy, or at least parts of it, can be stressful for some women. Worrying about stress harming one's baby can lead to more worry...and stress! However, knowing that love and attachment can "undo" the results of that stress is very reassuring. The researchers note that they aren't certain whether the cortisol they found in the amniotic fluid was from the mother or the fetus. As as result, they feel more research is needed. Interestingly, they will follow up with the children that began the study in their mom's stomachs once they turn six.