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Foetal brain development and excess cortisol/stress in pregnancy

(30 Posts)
PavlovtheForgetfulCat Sat 19-Sep-09 09:11:46

I did some training this week, some of it covered a bit about attachment theory, which I knew a reasonable amount about. But something came up which disturbed/unsettled/worried me, given the continued stresses I have found myself under this pregnancy, and also in my last pregnancy when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and became very very ill.

It is suggested that Attachment starts in utero, and that the brain development can be physically affected by 'loss of equilibrium' resulting in production of excess cortisol? I asked if this is was caked up medically as it was a bit scaremongery (esp given that the training did not come with any 'health warning' as such).

Of course there is the 'resilliance factor' in relation to how a newborn baby might cope in the first few months of having to deal with parental stresses and lack of attachment can be overcome, but what about the physical aspects of this suggestion on brain damage in the womb? That cannot be reversed, if it is correct.

I am wondering what your thoughts on this are? Do not passify me, or say what you think I might want to hear, but rather your actual opinions on whether this is in fact true, and how you might come to that decision?

PavlovtheForgetfulCat Sat 19-Sep-09 09:12:57

'backed up medically' not caked up blush - they said not btw, but another colleague said it was.

katster37 Sat 19-Sep-09 09:33:53

Hiya Pav,
I have read quite a bit on this, and am part of a study for King's hosp, where they routinely measure cortisol in the mother's saliva and then monitor baby's development up to 2 years old. I think the fact that they are still undertaking quite a lot of research suggests it is still a bit of an unknown, to be honest, although I can't imagine anyone managing to get through 9 months without some kind of stress. Not that everyone's would be on the same level as finding out your mum had terminal cancer - that is horrendous - but that the placenta must be fairly good at filtering out some things. I did read this on the BBC here but they are prone to reporting 'groundbreaking' news, when in fact the truth probably is that it is relatively unknown as of yet. Also, think of how many people who are genuinely stress-free - esp when pregnant - pregnancy is so stressful anyway, there must be a natural resilience in-built, I would have though.

katster37 Sat 19-Sep-09 09:35:40

Also, should have said that my own mother had a v stressful pregnancy (she was told she had kidney cancer and had to have a termination) but I think I am ok! I am v close to my mum now, and I don't think there is anything wrong with my IQ. I think far more attachment 'damage' can be done after they are born, to be honest!!

I suffered from very bad depression and anxiety through out both of my pg's (and had very bad pnd too) as far as I can see it appears to have no effect on my children whatsoever, they are both bright, happy, loving and healthy.

I have read about this and it has worried me, but there was nothing I could do about it except not have children (I have battled with depression and anxiety all my life) which, selfishly maybe, I wasn't prepared to do and like I said so my kids seem to be fine.

sahara78 Sat 19-Sep-09 09:41:25

What are the long tern effects supposed to be? What part of the brain does it affect and how does that affect their future developement? (in simple terms!!! LOL)

Its just I couldn't have been more distressed/stressed while pregnant with my daughter (and this pregnancy) And so far my daughter seems OK?

She is very affectionate, determined, stubborn perhaps. Normal intelligence from what I can tell. Has reached most of her milestones on time. She is 3 now.

The only thing is she is long sighted, but I challenge anyone to prove that is down to stress I had while pregnant.

I wouldn't worry, obviously its better all round if you aren't stressed, but for me I have anxiety so its impossible most of the time. I am sure your baby is just fine.

I am so sorry to hear about your Mum too, I lost my Mum to cancer last November so my thoughts are with you

bidibidi Sat 19-Sep-09 09:42:24

There's no point in making yourself feel bad about something so far beyond your control.

For various reasons I was often very feisty, short-tempered and volatile when pregnant with DC3. I wasn't like that with other 3 pregnancies. 5 years later DC3 is easily the most volatile (quick to anger) of my 4 DC. Make of it what you will...

puffylovett Sat 19-Sep-09 09:51:04

I think there's still a lot of research to be done in this area, but it is a subject that fascinates me. Not least because it's been linked to skin conditions.

I was majorly stressed with work through my first pregnancy and DS has had 2 years of awful eczema. Now there could be a miriad of other reasons for him developing it, not the least of which is that both sides of the family are highly atopic, but I still can't help thinking that there must be a link.

Knowing what I know about how inflammatory excess cortisol can be, and eczema being an inflammatory condition.

DaisymooSteiner Sat 19-Sep-09 09:53:38

Very, very few things in medicine are as simple as 'if you do x then y will happen', it's more a case of increasing or decreasing risk of something happen. eg not everyone who smokes will get lung cancer, not everyone who is obese will get heart disease.

I know you have been very stressed with your building problems, but without wanting to diminish it, in the big scheme of things it's not the most stressful thing that could happen to someone - nobody's died, you haven't been caught in a war zone, you haven't been caught up in terrorist attacks. Millions and millions of pregnant women will go through events such as these and the vast majority of their babies will end up absolutely fine.

You can't change what has happened. Concentrate on looking forward to your baby's arrival and how much you're going to love him every day for the rest of his life.

MuffinTopMamma Sat 19-Sep-09 10:10:09

Not sure I agree with that theory. My mother died from secondary breast cancer when I was pregnant with my DS. From her diagnosis of reappearance of cancer to her death was about a month, so it was very unexpected and very sudden. I was 6 months pregnant when she died and my world literally fell apart. However, the arrival of my son a few months later was my saviour, I think I may have struggled to cope without his arrival. He is now happy and very healthy, and I would say hasn't suffered whatsoever.

Scorps Sat 19-Sep-09 10:20:28

I'm not sure I agree either.... Though this pregnancy ad my stress/upset times have worried me (dh cheated on me during this pg, dc4).

My Nans husband died when she was pregnant, that amount of stress and upset is unimaginable to me, but my aunty is a very intelligent, level headed woman.

In my pregnancy I have taken time daily to just stroke andget 'in tune' with my growing dd2, so I have some time to focus on her.

PavlovtheForgetfulCat Sat 19-Sep-09 10:22:11

daisy I completely agree building stress is not really that significant, but I guess its all relative isn't it? compared to someone who has lost someone close while pg its not bad, but compared to my other life experiences, its quite bad! I guess, I can feel my stress levels, and I can feel the adrenaline around my body when I am stressed and I wonder how much impact this has on the baby's development.

Its not something I shall get stressed over grin or else that would potentially make it worse eh? I guess its something that I wonder about, especially in training provided by statutory agencies, about the pressures there are to produce a 'perfect' child and how so much blame seems to be laid at the doors of mothers in pregnancy.

I also agree that the risk factors increase and decrease with so many issues in our lives, and I wondered if anyone had done any research or had experience of research that might back it up, such as that which katster mentions

saharah I am not sure what the long term effects are meant to be, in that the trainers just did not know enough about it, and therefore I questioned the relevance of it n a group where there would be parents who would self reflect, if they could not back it up/provide a context - I think that is what I am now looking for, that context in what they might mean. I hve found little research but it seems it could affect emotional development - however DD is the most secure child I know, and clearly has no emotional issues that I can tell other than normal child behaviour!

katster37 Sat 19-Sep-09 11:23:09

Puffylovett that's interesting about skin conditions. I have psoriasis which I believe is, in part, down to stress, although my maternal great-grandmother also suffered v badly with it, so I guess it is impossible whether it is genetic or because my mum is a stress-pot!

Pavlov totally agree about the pressures to produce the 'perfect' child, and medical science looking to find a 'reason' for anything outside of (even vaguely) 'normal' parameters. A lot of it seems to play on fears, which must contribute to stress anyway! So it's a case of 'worry about this or this will happen, but if you worry too much, then your baby will be X and X and X because you didn't manage to control your stress adequately!'

puffylovett Sat 19-Sep-09 20:20:05

Katster - yes there undoubtedly is a genetic link - but what has triggered that gene, that's the way I look at it. It's like cancer - not everyone who has the gene for cancer will go on to develop it. But if there is something in their lifestyle that could trigger that gene / switch it on so to speak, then the cancer thrives. IYSWIM grin

Comma2 Sun 20-Sep-09 02:38:50

with my 1st, I had the most relaxed pregnancy...we moved and stuff, but I had so many days where I just chilled all day, it was great and I enjoyed it so much. And dd is the most lovley, happy and even-tempered child I could imagine.

This time I have depression and all sorts of other health things, constantly crying --I am afraid it must somehow affect the poor baby. It makes me feel so bad.....

Deemented Sun 20-Sep-09 07:17:38

Well, when pregnant with my ds, now five i had the most stressful time in my life, ever.

The pregnancy started off as a triplet pregnancy, but we lost a baby at ten weeks. At twelve weeks we found out there was a potential problem with one of the remaining babies, and at 14 weeks we were told one of our babies was likely to die soon after birth. As you can imagine, living with that knowledge was incredibly stressful and draining. The pregnancy ended at 28 weeks when i went into prem labour. My first son lived for under two hours, and my second son spent 11 weeks in various NICU/SCBU's.

DS has shown no ill effects of the stress i went through at all. He is the most laid back and relaxed child i know. He doesn't worry about anything and is always smiling.

I did used to wonder if the tumultous start he had to life would affect him, but it hasn't at all.

Comma2 Sun 20-Sep-09 17:55:43

Oh my god, Deemented, how horrible to go through that! I'm so sorry!
Hooray for your little man though!

PavlovtheForgetfulCat Sun 20-Sep-09 20:25:17

deemented I am so sorry for such a hard pregnancy and for your losses. I think that such a situation is a good indicator isn't it, of whether research such as this is accurate, or not. I think, given the stresses you have been through, I shall stop fretting about my significantly minor strains of life.

I am pleased your boy is doing so well though, says a lot for the interaction of parents after the birth doesn't it?

sarah293 Sun 20-Sep-09 20:41:25

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PavlovtheForgetfulCat Sun 20-Sep-09 20:46:34

Riven - the training i was on was on safeguarding children, so I think they were attempting to suggest significant stress other than the normal stresses that people experience, in relation to the whole theory of attachment and the affects of cortisol on brain development in terms of emotional attachment. The problem is, this was not clarified, nor put into any kind of context, which is why I wondered whether any specific research might have been done.

sarah293 Sun 20-Sep-09 20:52:32

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PavlovtheForgetfulCat Sun 20-Sep-09 20:56:08

Yes, I guess so. Although I wondered if they would measure excess cortisol produced and then look at the development of the brain accordingly. Given the way they worded it, as in development of foetal brain/correlated to amount of cortisol, I think similar research has been done on children already born, to demonstrate that significant cortisol increases during key developmental periods can affect growth. But as you say, its all so woolly, I just think they should back off with even mentioning it unless it is a pychology course, which it wasn't - it was about multi agency working! hmm

Deemented Sun 20-Sep-09 20:56:30

Pavlov, Please don't compare, brcause there is no comparison to be had. Your stresses are no less valid and you are more then entitled to them.

Life just throws you a curve ball every now and then... i guess it's wether or not you catch it that matters...

PavlovtheForgetfulCat Sun 20-Sep-09 20:58:24

Thing is, I am a shit catcher! grin.

I have always tried to take on 'challenges' with both hands, with a 'this will make me stronger' attitude - this pregnancy, I seem to have lost a lot of that and I guess it concerns me to the point I am worrying about everything!

sarah293 Sun 20-Sep-09 20:59:04

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