"For mothers, knowing that the prenatal experience of domestic violence can directly harm their babies maybe a powerful motivator to help them get out of such abusive situations," said study co-author Alytia Levendosky, psychology professor at the Michigan State University in the US.

The study of 182 mothers, aged 18-34 years, found a surprisingly strong relationship between a mother's pre-natal abuse by a male partner and post-natal trauma symptoms in their children. Prenatal abuse could cause changes in the mother's stress response systems, increasing her levels of the hormone cortisol, which in turn could increase cortisol levels in the foetus, Levendosky added.

"Cortisol is a neurotoxic, so it has damaging effects on the brain when elevated to excessive levels," Levendosky said. The study appears in the research journal Child Abuse and Neglect.


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