Pregnancy stress can impact future generations

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CHILDREN whose grandmothers were stressed during pregnancy have an increased chance of mental health problems, a study has suggested.

Researchers at the Roslin Institute, which is part of the University of Edinburgh, found that mothers who experience stress throughout their pregnancy can transmit the effects to both the first and second generation of offspring.

It was found that increased stress is linked to changes in genes expressed in the part of the brain that regulates emotions such as fear and anxiety.

Previous research suggested that anxiety during pregnancy is harmful to developing babies’ brains and is linked to a greater risk of mental health disorders.

This is the first time it has been revealed that the harmful effects of prenatal stress could present themselves in future generations.

Researchers found that the second generation of offspring from rats who had experienced social stress during pregnancy – caused by short periods of exposure to unfamiliar female rats – were more anxious than those whose grandmothers had not experienced stress.

The offspring showed a pattern of gene expression that is linked with an increased risk of anxiety disorders.

Group leader, Dr Paula Brunton said: “It appears from this work that stress during pregnancy has long-term health implications not only for the unborn child but also for future generations.”

The new findings will provide researchers with a better insight into the origins of mood disorders, which could help find new ways of treating mental health conditions.