In the past research has shown that the stress reaction in pregnant women can be passed to the fetus along the placenta, and this reaction can have a negative impact on the unborn child after they are born. Some of the symptoms associated with prenatal stress after birth include a low birth weight, a higher susceptibility to illness, and brain development that is poor compared to babies who were not exposed to prenatal stress. A new study shows that these problems can be overcome with sensitive infant care and good parenting. The researchers determined that after birth parenting that is loving and attentive can overcome the prenatal stress exposure and reduce the negative genetic impacts that the prenatal depression in the mother can cause.
Dr. Elisabeth Conradt, an assistant professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Utah, was one of the researchers who studied sensitive infant care and prenatal depression, discussed the study and stated “We were curious about whether maternal behavior could buffer the child against the effects of maternal depression, and if this buffering could be observed at the level of the infant’s epigenome. Many mothers struggle with depression but interact quite sensitively with their infants. In these instances, the mother may be turning on certain genes that we think allow infants to manage stress in adaptive ways. We are excited about the possibility that this research may lead to specific ways one can effectively intervene with pregnant women at risk for postpartum depression.” Further research may be needed to evaluate the true effectiveness of sensitive infant care and how this care minimizes the prenatal stress exposure in infants.