Researchers at the University of Michigan measured the stress hormone cortisol in pregnant women from early pregnancy to when their baby was six weeks old.
Mothers-to-be please take note! A study has recently found that pregnant women suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have 10 times higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which may affect the health and longevity of the newborns.
Researchers at the University of Michigan measured the stress hormone cortisol in pregnant women from early pregnancy to when their baby was six weeks old. They found that those with a dissociative type of PTSD, which is often related to childhood abuse or trauma, had up to 10 times higher cortisol levels than their peers.
These toxic levels of cortisol may contribute to health problems in the next generation, said lead study Julia Seng.
“We know from research on the developmental origins of health and disease that the baby’s first environment in its mother’s body has implications for health across the lifespan,” Seng added.
The researchers found that higher exposure to cortisol may signal the fetus to adapt in ways that help survival, but don’t help health and longevity. This finding is very useful because it helps us know which women are most likely to exhibit the highest level of stress and stress hormones during pregnancy and postpartum.”
The effect of elevated cortisol on a developing fetus is not well understood, but high cortisol and stress also contribute to preterm birth. The team analysed 395 women expecting their first child were divided into four groups: those without trauma, those with a trauma but no PTSD, those with classic PTSD and those with dissociative PTSD.
They measured salivary cortisol at different times during the day. Then 111 of those women gave saliva specimens until postpartum. The difference in cortisol was greatest in early pregnancy, when levels were eight times higher in the afternoon and 10 times higher at bedtime for the dissociative group than for other women.
About 8 % of pregnant women in the study had PTSD, a disorder that results when symptoms of anxiety and fear persist well after exposure to stressful events. About 14 % of that group had the more complex dissociative PTSD, which was associated with higher cortisol.
“We can work with them to make pregnancy, maternity care, labor, breastfeeding and early parenting less likely to trigger stress reactions. And we can connect them to mental health services when they are ready to treat their PTSD.” The research appears in Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing.