Welcome to our latest News Letter May 2017
Women’s Mental Health and Low Birth Weight
A woman’s financial worries concerning the arrival and care of her new baby can contribute to the birth of a smaller, more medically vulnerable infant.
Researchers at The Ohio State University found that pregnancy-specific distress, such as concerns that the baby’s needs won’t be met, appears to be a pathway between financial strain and higher likelihood of a low-birth-weight infant.
“There is an opportunity here to look for interventions during pregnancy that could help mitigate the effects of financial strain on birth outcomes,” said lead author Amanda Mitchell, a postdoctoral researcher in Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Stress and Health in Pregnancy Research Program.
While larger efforts to improve access to housing, jobs and support for low- income women is critical, according to Mitchell, there are potential low-cost, stress-reduction techniques that could help reduce risk like meditation and breathing exercises.
“It’s important for all women who experience pregnancy- related stress to seek out help coping with that stress,” Mitchell said. “And pre-natal medical providers should also talk about stress during their visits with expecting moms.”
The study included 138 pregnant women who filled out questionnaires to assess financial strain, depressive symptoms, pregnancy-specific distress, perceived stress and general anxiety. Moms in the racially diverse study group were between five and 31 weeks pregnant and 29 years old on average at the time of the assessment.
After the participants’ babies were born, researchers were able to review medical records to compare birth weight against moms’ questionnaire responses during pregnancy.
The researchers knew from previous studies that pregnant moms who are socioeconomically disadvantaged have a higher likelihood of having smaller babies and worse birth outcomes.
What they wanted to learn was whether specific factors could be driving that connection – factors that could lead to positive interventions for women at risk of delivering low-birth-weight babies. Statistical models designed to identify those drivers landed on one statistically significant factor: pregnancy-specific distress.
“This includes concerns about labor and delivery, about relationships changing, about working after the baby arrives, paying for medical care, and whether the baby will be unhealthy,” said study senior author Lisa Christian, associate professor of psychiatry and a member of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State.
Financial strain was assessed based on a five-point scale derived from moms’ responses to three questions: “How difficult is it for you to live on your total household income right now?” “In the next two months, how likely is it that you and your family will experience actual hardships, such as inadequate housing, food, or medical attention?” and “How likely is it that you and your family will have to reduce your standard of living to the bare necessities of life?”
Low-birth-weight babies often suffer from serious health problems and spend their first weeks or months in intensive care. “It’s important to understand the factors that make it more likely for a woman with lower socioeconomic conditions to have a baby at higher risk of complications and death,” Amanda Mitchell Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Stress and Health in Pregnancy Research Program.
Creating Children Primed for Violence
Particularly when it occurs during the first 1001 days, can permanently injure children in ways that make them much more prone to violence. However, most abuse and neglect in high-risk families can be prevented.
Home visiting provided by trained professionals to interested at-risk young mothers starting before they give birth and continuing until their first child is age two or beyond significantly reduces abuse and neglect. According to Dr. Bruce Perry, a neurobiologist and authority on brain development and children in crisis, the systems in the human brain that allow us to form and maintain emotional relationships develop during infancy and the first years of life … “With severe emotional neglect in early childhood, the impact can be devastating.” Perry explains that without maternal love severely neglected children frequently respond to mild provocation with aggression and cruelty that “is often accompanied by a detached, cold lack of empathy.”
Research shows that neglect is as likely as physical abuse to lead to future criminal behavior when a child reaches adulthood. Physical abuse can cause post-traumatic stress disorders in children. Even when nothing is threatening them, abused children’s brains can become “stuck” in high alert with very high resting heart rates and high levels of stress hormones in their blood. These children are predisposed to interpret others’ actions as threatening and are quick to respond impulsively and aggressively in their own defense. Perry warns: “The most dangerous children are created by a malignant combination of experiences.
Developmental neglect and traumatic stress during childhood create violent, remorseless children. Of growing concern is the role head injuries play in violent behavior, particularly injuries to the frontal or temporal lobes of the brain. A baby or toddler’s head is especially vulnerable to rough shaking or blows to the head that can cause shearing and microscopic lesions throughout the brain during this time of critical and rapid development. (Birth Trauma-Ed) Young children’s head injuries are often cumulative from repeated incidents of abuse.
These injuries usually go undetected, except in the most extreme cases, because they leave no external marks. The damage done may not manifest itself until much later as the brain matures. A number of studies on adolescents and adults link head injuries to recurring aggression and violence.
Child Trauma Academy in Houston led by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D.
Mother’s Stress Affects Foetus
Stress experienced by a woman during pregnancy may affect her unborn baby as early as 17 weeks after conception, with potentially harmful effects on brain and development, according to new research.
The study is the first to show that unborn babies are exposed to their mother’s stress hormones at such an early stage in pregnancy. The findings, published in the journal Clinical Endocrinology, show that high levels of stress in a mother during pregnancy could affect brain function and behaviour in her offspring, and other evidence suggesting that maternal stress in humans can affect the developing child, including lowering its IQ. The way this happens and the implications for the unborn child, both before and after birth, are still not fully understood and further research is needed.
According to this study the authors claim they have no wish to “unduly worry pregnant women”, but highlight the need to lead a “healthy, balanced lifestyle” to avoid general stress. Lead researchers Professor Vivette Glover at Imperial College London and the consultant obstetrician Pampa Sarkar, from Wexham Park hospital, Berkshire, measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in 267 pregnant women. Cortisol, which is pumped into the blood when we become anxious, is good in the short term, as it helps the body to deal with a stressful situation, but long-term stress can cause tiredness, depression and make an individual more prone to illness.
Scientists sampled blood from the mother and amniotic fluid from around the foetus in the womb and found that, at a gestational age of 17 weeks or greater, higher cortisol levels in the mother’s blood were reflected in higher levels in the amniotic fluid.
Amniotic fluid is mainly produced by the foetus and is a good indicator of its exposure to a range of substances, including hormones. Dr Sarkar says “We are all a product of our developmental history, one of the times when we are most susceptible to the influences of our surrounding environment is when we are developing as a foetus”. Claire Friars, a midwife at the charity Tommy’s, said: “This is an important study as there’s solid evidence to show that an unborn child may be exposed to maternal stress as early as 17 weeks in development. “As such it is vital that pregnant women are given adequate support and reassurance from their family, friends and employers, to ensure they have a happy and healthy pregnancy.”
An earlier study led by Prof Glover, measured the intelligence of more than 100 babies and toddlers whose mothers had suffered unusually high stress in pregnancy. It found their IQ was generally about 10 points below average, and that many had higher than average levels of anxiety and attention deficit problems. Relationship problems with a partner were the most frequent cause of stress for pregnant women, the research revealed.
One theory is that “foetal programming” developed as an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, on the basis that if the mother was highly stressed, the baby was likely to be born into a dangerous environment.
Childhood Lasts a Lifetime
Empathy, caring, sharing, inhibition of aggression, capacity to love and a host of other characteristics of a healthy, happy and productive person are related to the core attachment capabilities which are formed in infancy and early childhood.
The most important relationship in a child’s life is the attachment to his or her primary caregiver, optimally, the mother. This is due to the fact that this first relationship determines the biological and emotional ‘template’ for all future relationships. Healthy attachment to the mother built by repetitive bonding experiences during infancy provides the solid foundation for future healthy relationships.
During the first three years of life, the human brain develops to 90 percent of adult size and puts in place the majority of systems and structures that will be responsible for all future emotional, behavioral, social and physiological functioning during the rest of life.
There are critical periods during which bonding experiences must be present for the brain systems responsible for attachment to develop normally. These critical periods appear to be in the first year of life and are related to the capacity of the infant and caregiver to develop a positive interactive relationship Children without touch, stimulation and nurturing can literally lose the capacity to form any meaningful relationships for the rest of their lives.
A long term study in Aberdeen conducted by Kings College London involving several thousand children found ‘miserable, unhappy tearful and distressed children were more likely to suffer ill health in middle age. Were also more likely to be prone to depression and miss work through ‘ill health’ as adults. According to Max Henderson the lead researcher “childhood trends seem to be a contributing factor to ill health in later adult life, making these same groups more susceptible to anxiety and depression”
Babies can Recognise their Mothers Touch during Confinement
Using three-dimensional ultrasound videos, scientists were able to watch babies movements during confinement.
This study at the University of Dundee showed the babies reaction to their mothers massaging their abdomen. They recorded unborn babies reaching out to touch the wall of the uterus in response to their mother placing her hands over her abdomen. Although others were recorded also placing their hands on the mother’s abdomen the strongest response came when the mother rubbed her own tummy and the baby reached back. This shows more than just babies as being able to recognise their mothers touch while still in the womb.
As a means of communication touch is the baby’s first language and the way a baby is held and touched tells them just how loved and wanted they are. Touch is vital to the emotional, physical, physiological wellbeing of all babies. In the extreme with ample touch babies thrive and without touch they die.
There are many recorded examples of Anaclytic Depression, failure to thrive through lack of touch, the earliest of which was recorded in 1248 and can be found on the internet (see – Fredericks experiment – these babies could not live without petting).
Developing a mother’s touch to include massage is not a ‘middle class fad’ as described and showing a total lack of understanding from Jeremy Hunt Conservative Secretary of State for Health and given as one of his reasons to cut funding and close childcare centres. Infant massage is a wonderful positive ‘intervention’ giving all mothers an early and unique opportunity to deepen the bonds they share with their baby.
A means of relieving birth and early infant trauma and for mothers, fathers and carer’s to assess and encourage the healthy development of all new babies and children.
If 1001 Critical Days is to mean anything more support has to be offered to childcare centres and those in the ‘front line’ supporting mother and child / family relationships.
Developmental Baby Massage For ‘In House Teacher Training’ firstname.lastname@example.org
See also www.babymassageteachertraining.com
Health Professionals Teacher Training Act Now Breathe out for Peace Editor Peter Walker May 2017