A University of Rochester Medical Center research team has won a $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the role expectant mothers’ stress levels might play in their babies’ health outcomes as children and adults.
The research team, led by scientist Emily Barrett, theorizes documented differences in men’s and women’s health outcomes could originate before birth and at least partly be determined by maternal stress effects.
Other previous studies found a mother’s anxiety during pregnancy can have long-lasting effects on children’s development.
Boys, for example, are more often diagnosed with autism and attention deficit disorder, while more teenage girls suffer from depression than teenage boys. Women 50 and older suffer more from high blood pressure than men in the same age group, but women younger than 55 suffer fewer heart attacks than men of a similar age.
Barrett, an assistant professor in the departments of obstetrics and gynecology and public health sciences, plans to test the notion that expectant mothers’ stress levels affect their babies’ sex-hormone levels in the womb, which in turn has consequences for the offspring’s health in later life.
Her team plans to recruit some 290 pregnant women and follow the women from the first trimester until their children are 15 months old. To determine the expectant mothers’ stress levels, they will use questionnaires and keep track of the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the women’s blood.
Information gathered by her team could one day help doctors better diagnose and treat conditions that predominantly affect males or females, Barrett said.
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