An increasing number of studies indicate that stress experienced by a pregnant woman affects the baby she’s carrying. Now, scientists have found that mothers who stroke their baby’s body in the first few weeks after birth may change the effects that stress during pregnancy has on an infant’s early-life development.

The researchers, from the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, and Kings College, London, followed first-time mothers from pregnancy through to the first years of their children’s lives as part of The Wirral Child Health and Development Study, according to a press release.

It showed that links between symptoms of depression in pregnancy and subsequent infant emotions of fear and anger, as well as heart rate response to stress at seven months of age changed by how often a mother stroked their baby on the head, back, legs and arms in the early weeks of life, according to the press release.

Scientists believe that stress in pregnancy can have an effect on an infant in later life by reducing the activity of genes that play a role in stress response.

“We are currently following up on the Wirral children in our study to see if reports of early stroking by their mothers continue to make a difference to developmental outcomes over time,” said Dr Helen Sharp, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society. “The eventual aim is to find out whether we should recommend that mothers who have been stressed during pregnancy should be encouraged to stroke their babies early in life”

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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