Stress During Pregnancy Linked to Child’s Fast Ageing

By Lisa Franchi on April 13, 2017

Mums who were stressed while pregnant have babies who have shorter telomeres, according to new research. Telomeres are the caps on chromosomes that protect DNA from wear-and-tear. Shorter telomeres are linked to shorter lifespan and increased risk of diseases.

The research, carried out by Germany’s University of Heidelberg, looked at 319 newborns and mothers. Scientists monitored the mother’s stress levels, and took saliva and cord blood samples to test DNA.

The mothers were also interviewed of their lifestyle habits, the amount of stress they believe they had to cope with, and whether they suffered from any psychological disorders. They also asked them about the baby’s father.

The findings revealed that children of mothers who had experienced increased psychosocial stress during pregnancy were found to have shorter telomeres - which is a marker of ageing. The children of mothers who had experienced increased psychosocial stress during pregnancy also tended to have shorter telomeres.

People with shorter telomeres are more prone to breakages, and are therefore believed to age ’faster’ than peers with longer telomeres.  And since telomeres shorten with age, researchers use telomere length at birth as an indicator of how that person will age.

Shorter telomere length is also associated with psychiatric disorders, including major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, babies of mothers who suffered from long-term stress - before they conceived - did not have shorter telomeres. It was only if the mothers’ stress levels were heightened during gestation.

However, pregnancy-linked stress had no impact on the mothers’ own telomere length. That was only the case in mothers suffering from a long-term psychological disorder.

’Although the meaning of the reported differences in TL for later health is so far unclear, our findings underline the necessity to especially support women with increased risk of experiencing stress during pregnancy,’ says lead author Tabea Send from the university’s mental health department. 

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