Fetuses can sense moms’ mental state

Washington: The fetus growing inside the mother’s womb not only hears her heartbeat or the music she might play to her belly, but also gets signals about her mental state through the placenta, which effects the baby’s development after birth, a new study has found.

Curt A. Sandman, Elysia P. Davis, and Laura M. Glynn from the University of California-Irvine, who study how the mother’s psychological state affects a developing fetus, recruited pregnant women and checked them for depression before and after they gave birth.

The researchers also gave their babies tests after they were born to see how well they were developing.

They found that what mattered to the babies was if the environment was consistent before and after birth, that is, the babies who did best were those who either had mothers who were healthy both before and after birth, and those whose mothers were depressed before birth and stayed depressed afterwards.

What slowed the babies’ development was changing conditions, a mother who went from depressed before birth to healthy after or healthy before birth to depressed after.

“We must admit, the strength of this finding surprised us,” Sandman said.

The cynical interpretation of the results is that if a mother is depressed before birth, she should be left that way for the well-being of the infant.

The study has been published in Psychological Science.