Stressed-out mums could be affecting unborn babies

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UNIVERSITY experts are urging mothers to reduce stress during pregnancy after research found it could have an effect on foetuses in the womb.

Researchers at Durham and Lancaster universities say unborn babies are more likely to show left-handed movements in the womb when their mothers are stressed – an indicator that maternal stress could have an effect.

But the study also found that the babies didn’t necessarily stay left-handed after birth. Researchers say some people might be genetically predisposed to being left-handed, and there are examples of right and left-handedness switching throughout a person’s life.

Using four-dimensional ultrasound scans, the researchers observed 57 scans of 15 healthy foetuses, recording 342 facial touches. The foetuses were scanned at four different stages between 24 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. Researchers also asked the mothers of these babies how much stress they had experienced in the four weeks between each of the scans.

The universities discovered that the more stress mothers reported, the more frequently foetuses touched their faces with their left hands.

The findings are published in the journal Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition.

Lead author Dr Nadja Reissland, of Durham University’s department of psychology, said: “Maternal stress could be having an effect on the child’s behaviour in the womb and highlights the importance of reducing stress in pregnancy.

“Such measures may include increased emphasis on stopping stressful work early, the inclusion of relaxation classes in pre-natal care and involvement of the whole family in the pre-natal period.”