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Stress in pregnancy may influence baby’s brain development

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Infants’ brains may be shaped by levels of stress their mother experiences during pregnancy, a study has revealed.

Stress levels in mothers – measured by a hormone linked to anxiety and other health problems – is related to changes in areas of the infant brain associated with emotional development, the study suggests.

Doctors say the findings highlight the urgent need for women to be better supported with their mental and physical health before and during pregnancy, and could help them spot mums and babies who need help.

The experts add that pregnant women who feel stressed or unwell should seek help from their midwife or consultant and that with support, most health issues can be well managed in pregnancy.

Maternal stress is known to influence the development of the child’s behaviour and ability to regulate its emotions as it grows. This is usually measured by questionnaires, which are not always reliable.

The new study is the first time that scientists have used an objective measure – levels of the hormone cortisol – in the mother to study links with baby brain development.

Cortisol is involved in the body’s response to stress – with higher levels indicating higher stress – and also plays a role in foetal growth.

A research team led by the University of Edinburgh showed that levels of cortisol are linked to the development of the baby’s amygdala, an area of the brain known to be involved in emotional and social development in childhood.

For the study, scientists took hair samples from 78 pregnant women to determine the women’s levels of cortisol in the previous three months.

The women’s babies underwent a series of brain scans using Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, a non-invasive scan that took place whilst the baby slept.

The researchers found that higher levels of cortisol in the mother’s hair were linked to structural changes in the infants’ amygdala as well as differences in brain connections.

Doctors say this could explain why children whose mothers experienced high levels of stress during pregnancy may be more likely to have emotional issues in later life.

They caution, however, that the study did not assess emotion in children.

The study was funded by the global children’s charity, Theirworld, and is published in the journal eLife.

Lead researcher, Professor James Boardman, Director of the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Our findings are a call to action to detect and support pregnant women who need extra help during pregnancy as this could be an effective way of promoting healthy brain development in their babies”.

 

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Health Ministry say’s for COVID-19 vaccin,No vaccination for pregnant, lactating women at this time.

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The Union Health Ministry has informed all states and union territories that interchangeability of COVID-19 vaccines is not permitted, and pregnant and lactating women should not be administered the shots as they have not been part of any anti-coronavirus vaccine clinical trial so far.

The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) had recently granted emergency use authorisation to two COVID-19 vaccines – Covishield, developed by Oxford University and British-Swedish company AstraZeneca, and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.

India will launch its COVID-19 vaccination drive from January 16 in what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called the world’s largest inoculation programme.

Ahead of the vaccination drive, in a letter to all states and UTs, the ministry highlighted that under the emergency use authorisation, coronavirus vaccination is indicated only for 18 years and above.

Around three lakh healthcare and frontline workers will be inoculated at 2,934 sites across the country on the first day of the nationwide vaccination drive.

The ministry has already said that getting vaccinated for COVID-19 will be voluntary.

A consignment of an anti-COVID vaccine comprising its 93,000 doses reached Himachal Pradesh’s capital Shimla on January 14, said State Health Secretary Amitabh Avasthi. The consignment of Covishield vaccine had been airlifted from Pune to Chandigarh, from where it was brought to Shimla by road, he said.

A consignment of 18,500 COVID-19 vaccines, to be used in the first phase of inoculation, arrived in Aizawl from New Delhi on the day.

The first consignment of 32,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Arunachal Pradesh in a vaccine van from Guwahati on the day.

Nagaland received its first consignment of 26,500 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, said an official. The vials arrived from Delhi at Dimapur Airport in an aircraft, he said.

A Maharashtra government official has said it will take six to seven months for the vaccine to become available for those who are not in the high-risk category.

Around 1.62 lakh COVID-19 vaccine has reached all the 24 districts of Jharkhand for the scheduled first phase of the vaccination drive on January 16, according to a top Health department official.

(With inputs from PTI)

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