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Effects of maternal anxiety and depression on fetal neuro-development.

Reissland, N. and Froggatt, S. and Reames, E. and Girkin, J. (2018) 'Effects of maternal anxiety and depression on fetal neuro-development.', Journal of affective disorders., 241 . pp. 469-474.


Background: Fetal development is affected by maternal mental health with research indicating that maternal anxiety and depression are co-morbid; nevertheless differential effects on the fetus have been found. This study examines, prenatally, effects of maternal stress, anxiety and depression on fetal eye-blink reactions to experimental sound and light stimulation. Methods: Two groups of singleton fetuses (mean 32-weeks gestation) were examined using 4D ultrasound: a control group (N= 14, 7 female) with no stimulation and an experimental group (N=21, 13 female) exposed to experimental sound, light and cross-modal stimulation. For both groups ultrasound scans were performed and fetal eye-blink was assessed. Mothers completed the Hospital-Anxiety-and-Depression Scale and the Perceived-Stress Scale. Analysis was carried out using Poisson mixed effects modelling. Results: Fetal eye-blink rate during experimental stimulation was significantly and differentially associated with maternal mental health with a 20% increase of fetal eye-blink rate for each unit increase in anxiety score (p=0.02) and a decrease of 21% of eye blink rate for each unit of increase in depression score (p=0.02). Sound stimulation but not light stimulation significantly affected blink-rate with fetuses habituating to the stimuli (p<0.001). Limitations: Limitations are the relatively small number of fetuses and that a follow up after birth is essential to establish potential long-term effects. Conclusions: Of clinical importance is the finding that although fetuses are affected by maternal mental health in general here we demonstrate, using eye-blink-rate during stimulation as measure of neuro-development, that fetuses are differentially affected by maternal anxiety and depression with anxiety increasing and depression decreasing fetal reactivity significantly.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.
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Publisher statement:© 2018 This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Date accepted:12 August 2018
Date deposited:14 August 2018
Date of first online publication:13 August 2018
Date first made open access:13 August 2019

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