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Maternal stress in pregnancy and breastfeeding 

Maternal stress in pregnancy and breastfeeding
Maternal stress in pregnancy and breastfeeding

Sir Peter Gluckman

, Mark Hanson

, Chong Yap Seng

, and Anne Bardsley

Page of

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date: 01 March 2021

Acute and/or chronic stress in pregnancy is potentially detrimental to the health of both the mother and the developing fetus. The stress response triggers the release of glucocorticoids, mainly cortisol, into the maternal bloodstream, with subsequent effects on energy metabolism, growth processes, and in the functioning of the immune system and brain. The placenta provides a barrier to natural glucocorticoids, buffering the fetus from minor changes in maternal cortisol levels but can be saturated by high maternal levels of cortisol and under conditions of maternal under-nutrition or compromised placental function. Various outcomes can be affected, including birthweight and infant behaviour. Severe stress is not always easily avoided, but daily stress, and specifically that associated with pregnancy itself, should be minimized as much as possible.

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