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Durham University

Research & business

Does a mother’s stress and depression affect how her unborn baby moves?

(9 June 2021)

New research from our Psychology and Mathematical Sciences departments found that stress and/or depression during pregnancy, affects how much unborn babies touch and engage in the womb.

This ultrasound study suggests that a mother’s stress and/or depression can influence the movement patterns of unborn babies reflecting their body awareness. They also found key differences between the movements of singles and twins in the womb.

Call for greater mental health support

The research indicates that if pregnant women are depressed and/or stressed it can affect their unborn babies’ body awareness differently.

The researchers found that depression increased the frequency of self- touch in fetuses. Additionally, in twin fetuses both maternal self-reported stress and depression changed how often they touched each other. This study suggests that mothers of multiples might need greater mental health support.

Experiencing touch of another human in the womb

Twin fetuses, who have the unique opportunity to touch another human being while inside the womb, showcased a positive connection with the touch behaviour.
Furthermore, the researchers found that twins show more head movement than single fetuses.

Interestingly, twins were much less likely to engage with their sibling in the womb if their mother reported stress. This poses interesting questions, as this engagement process is considered to be important in fetal development in the womb.

Find out more

• Read the full paper in Acta Paediatrica journal
• Watch YouTube video on fetuses here
• Learn more about the work of Dr Nadja Reissland, Dr Jochen Einbeck and Dr Alison Lane
• Interested in studying in Durham? Explore our undergraduate and postgraduate courses in our Department of Psychology