Stress experienced by a mother can spread to her baby in the womb, researchers believe.

The researchers, from the University of Konstanz, Germany, claim that a receptor for stress hormones in the unborn child undergoes a biological change if the mother is stressed. The change may mean the child might be unable to handle stress themselves.

The findings are based on a small study of 25 women and their children, now aged between 10 and 19, and were published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Although not definitive, a number of children in the study experienced changes to the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), which helps regulate the body's hormonal response to stress. Such changes usually occur in the womb.

However, the scientists believe that other factors, such as the child's environment, may also play an important role in the response to stress. All of the mothers who took part in the study had been living with the threat of domestic violence.

Professor Thomas Elbert, one of the researchers, said: "It would appear that babies who get signals from their mum that they are being born into a dangerous world are faster responders. They have a lower threshold for stress and seem to be more sensitive to it."

Posted by Robert Mair on 20.7.11 Please send your comments on this article to: 

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