In their study published in Biological Psychiatry, MRC Doctoral Researcher in Perinatal Imaging and Health, Alexandra Lautarescu and Head of Advanced Neuroimaging, Professor Serena Counsell, for the first time looked at the relationship between maternal stress and brain development in 251 premature babies, Science Daily reported.
They found evidence of impaired development of the white matter tract, an unbound bundle, in children whose mothers experienced more stress during the prenatal period.
An assessment of the severity of stress was calculated based on how many stressors women experienced and how serious these stressors were. The researchers used a medical imaging technique called diffusion-tensor imaging, which was specifically designed to study the structure of white matter.
"We found that in the mums that were more stressed during pregnancy and the period before birth, white matter was altered in the babies," said lead researcher Alexandra Lautarescu from King's College London.
Scientists say the study highlights the importance of supporting expectant mothers, as previous studies have shown that interventions such as cognitive-behavioral therapy can help alleviate adverse effects in the baby.