Stress is one of the most talked about things in our society these days. In all honesty, how could it not be? Most people are so incredibly overworked, underpaid, self-care gets looked down on (especially if you're a mom) and the expectations on both stay at home moms and working moms are getting more and more substantial every day. But with more conversations revolving around stress has also brought on positive outcomes as we're learning better coping mechanisms so that we aren't as mentally and physically stressed out on a daily basis. However, a new study is linking maternal stress at the time of conception to having more influence on kids later on in life than we thought.
The study, which was conducted by Simon Fraser University and published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease has found that a mothers' stress levels at the moment they conceive their children are linked to the way children respond to life challenges at age 11.
To come to this very specific conclusion, the researchers started by measuring the cortisol levels (a biomarker of physiological stress) from women who plan to become pregnant and continuing through the first eight weeks of gestation. Then, it was measured again years later from their children. Their goal is to understand how maternal biological stress around the time of conception and the development of their children's stress physiology correlate with one another.
They were able to measure reproductive hormones using urine samples, to very specifically identify the exact day the child was conceived and the moms' cortisol levels at that moment and during the first eight weeks of pregnancy. Then, twelve years later, they studied how these children reacted to the start of a new school year (a well known "natural" stressor) and to a public-speaking challenge (a frequently used "experimental" stressor).
Basically, this means that the maternal cortisol was connected with different ways that the kids responded to stress. This also differed depending on if they had boys or girls.
Stress isn't all bad though, and sometimes a little bit of it can be a good thing. The lead author of this study, Cindy Barha, says that "Stress plays a critical role not only in children's ability to respond to social and academic challenges but also in their development and health as adults."