Stress can pass through the placenta to negatively impact the foetus in ways that manifest after birth such as birth weight, brain development and increased susceptibility to various ailments, said lead author Elisabeth Conradt from University of Utah in the US in a study.

This study is the first to demonstrate that certain forms of maternal care-giving can have such an effect.

The team worked with 128 infants of women with self-reported symptoms of depression and obtained DNA from the infants through cheek swabs and cortisol - a hormone released in response to stress, levels from their saliva.

Each infant participated in three two-minute face-to-face play episodes with their mothers.

Maternal sensitivity, recorded every 30 seconds, was assessed using four scales.

Greater levels of maternal sensitivity were related to lower levels of cortisol, the study found.

While there were no differences in DNA among infants whose mothers scored high on sensitivity, infants whose mothers were both less sensitive and had high depressive symptoms had higher levels of methylation and more cortisol.


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