Women/Prenatal/Infant8

What makes a happy working mom?

Well-being of a working mum depends more on whether her own psychological needs are met rather than the temperament of her baby

December 6, 2017

Science Daily/Springer

A happy working mom feels competent in interacting with her child, experiences a sense of freedom and choice in her actions, while having a warm and affectionate relationship with her baby. She is also not too hard on herself about how she is faring as a mother.

 

Brenning and her colleagues showed that a mother's sense of well-being drops when she feels inadequate, under pressure, and is alienated from her social circle by her efforts to get to work and be a good parent all at once. Her own baby's temperament has little influence on her sense of well-being, but having a more extrovert child does help some women to feel more positive about motherhood, and to be less hard on themselves.

 

"Our findings point to a complex interplay between parent and child characteristics in the prediction of maternal wellbeing," says Brenning.

 

The research team analyzed five days of diary entries made by 126 mothers after their maternity leave ended and they had to leave their babies at a day-care facility for the first time. This tends to be a particularly stressful episode in the life of working mothers because it is often the first time that they are separated from their children. With maternity leave over, they also need to learn how to balance their work and family lives effectively.

 

Although the temperament of their children did not have much influence on the mothers' sense of well-being, Brenning says: "More positive perceptions of the child's temperament were found to buffer to some extent against the affective difficulties associated with a lack of need satisfaction, high need frustration and maternal self-criticism."

 

Brenning believes that in their interaction with their children, mothers should seek out experiences that also help to satisfy their own daily psychological needs. Mothers should not be too hard on themselves about how they are faring as a mother, search for activities with their baby that they enjoy, and create opportunities to spend with their offspring in a warm and affectionate way. The positive influence and energy this creates could be beneficial in that it allows mothers to interact with their child in a more sensitive, patient, and positive fashion.

 

The researchers also believe that clinical counsellors should highlight to their female patients how important it is to ensure that their own psychological needs are met, amid the pressures of motherhood and work.

 

"Need frustration relates to daily distress and to more cold and intrusive parent-child interactions," she says.

 

The findings highlight how difficult it is for women whose personalities tend to veer towards the depressive and the self-critical to adjust to parenthood. Brenning therefore thinks that prevention and intervention strategies should be in place to help such women cope in their first few months of parenthood.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171206122517.htm

Pregnant women with PTSD have higher levels of stress hormone cortisol

December 5, 2017

Science Daily/University of Michigan

A woman's emotional and physical health during pregnancy impacts a developing fetus, research shows. However, less is known about the effect of past stressors and posttraumatic stress disorder on an expectant woman.

 

To that end, researchers at the University of Michigan measured the stress hormone cortisol in pregnant women from early pregnancy to when their baby was 6 weeks old. They found that those with a dissociative type of PTSD that's often related to childhood abuse or trauma had levels up to 10 times higher than their peers.

 

These toxic levels of cortisol may contribute to health problems in the next generation, said Julia Seng, professor of nursing and lead author on the study.

 

"We know from research on the developmental origins of health and disease that the baby's first environment in its mother's body has implications for health across the lifespan," Seng said. "Higher exposure to cortisol may signal the fetus to adapt in ways that help survival, but don't help health and longevity. This finding is very useful because it helps us know which women are most likely to exhibit the highest level of stress and stress hormones during pregnancy and postpartum."

 

Cortisol is sometimes called the stress hormone because it's released in stressful situations as part of the flight-or-fight response. Cortisol levels that stay high are linked to serious health problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure, and can fuel weight gain, depression and anxiety plus a host of other problems. The effect of elevated cortisol on a developing fetus isn't well understood, but high cortisol and stress also contribute to preterm birth

 

In the study, 395 women expecting their first child were divided into four groups: those without trauma, those with a trauma but no PTSD, those with classic PTSD and those with dissociative PTSD.

 

Researchers measured salivary cortisol at different times during the day. Then 111 of those women gave saliva specimens until postpartum. The difference in cortisol was greatest in early pregnancy, when levels were eight times higher in the afternoon and 10 times higher at bedtime for the dissociative group than for other women.

 

About 8 percent of pregnant women in the study had PTSD, a disorder that results when symptoms of anxiety and fear persist well after exposure to stressful events. About 14 percent of that group had the more complex dissociative PTSD, which was associated with higher cortisol.

 

"It's been a mystery in our field why cortisol is sometimes high with PTSD and sometimes not," Seng said. "This finding that in pregnancy it's only the dissociative subgroup that has high cortisol gives us more to go on for future research."

 

Seng was surprised at how high the cortisol was in the dissociative group. She also said researchers expected women with classic PTSD to experience elevated cortisol as well, and the fact that they didn't is good news.

 

"We can do something for the 1-to-2 out of 100 pregnant women who have this dissociative PTSD," Seng said. "We can work with them to make pregnancy, maternity care, labor, breastfeeding and early parenting less likely to trigger stress reactions. And we can connect them to mental health services when they are ready to treat their PTSD."

 

Seng and collaborator Mickey Sperlich have developed a PTSD-specific education program for pregnant woman with a childhood trauma called the Survivor Moms' Companion, which has been piloted in Michigan and is currently being piloted in England.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171205130121.htm

Stress during pregnancy affects the size of the baby

Growth outcome opposite due to adversity at the beginning and end of gestation period

November 28, 2017

Science Daily/University of New Mexico

Babies are physically affected by the stress level of their mother during pregnancy, new research indicates.

 

Researchers from The Universities of New Mexico and Göttingen, as well as the German Primate Center, have now proposed a hypothesis that largely predicts why there are highly variable patterns in the growth rates of disadvantaged offspring across 719 studies on 21 mammal species.

 

"The idea is that prenatal stress affects offspring in two different ways depending on the timing of the stressor during pregnancy -- yielding different outcomes before birth, after birth, and after weaning" says Andreas Berghänel, evolutionary anthropologist at The University of New Mexico and lead author of the study.

 

For example, prenatal maternal stress late in gestation causes mothers to invest less energy in their offspring, which leads to slower grow in the womb and during infancy. Once the baby has reached nutritional independence, however, they are no longer affected directly by their mother's provisioning, and consequently grow at the same rate as non-disadvantaged offspring. Thus, maternal stress late in gestation leads to slow growth during dependent phases, but doesn't affect growth later.

 

By contrast, prenatal maternal stress early in gestation additionally causes the fetus to be entirely reprogrammed to deal with a reduced life expectancy. To "make the best of a bad job," the early challenged offspring switches to an accelerated pace of life and grows and matures faster than unchallenged offspring to ensure that it reproduces before it dies. Once set on the fast track, the offspring under early prenatal maternal stress remain on this trajectory even after weaning and therefore overshoot the usual body size for age throughout development.

 

"These new results may bear some translational value for understanding why girls start their menstrual cycles earlier in poorer neighborhoods." In combination, an infant's acceleration of their developmental processes together with a deceleration due to reduced maternal investment could then cancel each other out during phases of intense maternal investment -- gestation and lactation. It is not until the infant is nutritionally independent that the programming effects become clear.

 

This new comparative study finds all of these predictions are supported in a large sample of studies that each measured the effects of prenatal stress on offspring size and growth compared to an unchallenged control group.

 

"We found that stress during late gestation reduces offspring growth during dependence, resulting in a reduced body size throughout development, whereas stress during early gestation results in largely unaffected growth rates during dependence but accelerated growth and increased size after weaning," says Berghänel.

 

All stressors seem to have the same effect, and the results are stable across a variety of experiments. Whether mothers were exposed directly to stressors via food restriction or other adversities or were experimentally manipulated to increase their "stress hormones" for example, cortisol, the patterns of offspring growth across developmental stage relative to the timing of the stressor remained the same.

 

Significance

 

These new results may bear some translational value for understanding why girls start their menstrual cycles earlier in poorer neighborhoods, why teenage pregnancies are more frequent in disadvantaged families, and why adverse conditions during early development, particularly in formula-fed children, often lead to obesity and other metabolic health problems later in life.

 

Maternal stress during gestation causes numerous effects on infant physiology that extend well into adulthood. Empirical tests of this hypothesis across mammals suggest that the timing of the stressor during gestation and a simultaneous consideration of maternal investment and adaptive growth plasticity effects are crucial for a full comprehension of prenatal stress effects on offspring growth. The results support an adaptive life history perspective on maternal effects that is relevant for evolutionary biology, medicine, and psychology.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171128185924.htm

 

From lullabies to live concerts: How music and rhythm shape our social brains

March 27, 2018

Science Daily/Cognitive Neuroscience Society

A universal sign of motherhood is the lullaby. The world over, mothers sing to their babies, whether Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, their favorite song from the radio, or even random notes. This universality makes the simple lullaby a great window into the human mind. In a new study, cognitive neuroscientists found that lullabies soothe both moms and babies simultaneously, while playsongs increase babies' attention and displays of positive emotion toward their mothers.

 

The behavioral implications of music are vast, says Laura Cirelli of the University of Toronto Mississauga, who is presenting the new work on maternal singing at the 25th meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS) in Boston today. "Infant brains must be able to track auditory events in a predictive manner to make sense of music," she explains, and many complex things are going on in their brains to make that possible.

 

From infancy to old age, music demands much from the human brain. Learning more about how we process music is helping scientists better understand perception, multisensory integration, and social coordination across the lifespan. Technological advancements -- for example, more portable electroencephalography (EEG) and electrophysiology set-ups and- are allowing cognitive neuroscientists to study music in a variety of situations, from mother-child interactions to live concert halls.

 

"Music and rhythm are human universals but do not appear to be shared by most other species," says Jessica Grahn of the University of Western Ontario who is chairing the CNS session on musical rhythm and who co-authored a new study of live music and brain rhythms. "Rhythm in particular is mysterious: We are sensitive to the 'beat' -- that steady, underlying pulse that we tap our foot or bob our head to -- from early in life. But, even after decades of trying, 'beat-tracking' algorithms can't approach anything like the automaticity and flexibility that humans show to feel the beat across different speeds, genres, and instruments."

 

Music for mom and baby

While working at a daycare one summer as an undergraduate student, Cirelli was at a playground when a 2-year-old girl asked her for help down the slide. The rest of the toddlers saw this, looked at each other, and excitedly ran over to line up and wait their turn. "I was amazed at the complexity of their social understanding at an age where they can't even tell us what they are thinking," she explains. This sent her down the path of exploring how sociality develops at a young age, and as a piano player and ballerina, the natural fit was to use music as a way to understand the social brain.

 

In her new study on lullabies, Cirelli and colleagues investigated how mothers adjust their infant-directed singing depending on their goal, to be soothing or to be playful. The participating mothers repeatedly sang Twinkle Twinkle to their babies who were sitting in a highchair facing them. The mothers alternated between singing in a playful way or a soothing manner. At the same time, researchers were tracking the mothers' and babies' arousal responses, measured through skin conductance and behavior. "When we are excited or stressed, arousal levels increase," Cirelli explains. "When we are calm, they decrease."

 

The researchers found that the moms' arousal levels were higher during playful compared to soothing song. And they found coordinated decreases in arousal for both the moms and babies as the soothing songs progressed. In the playful conditions, the babies' arousal levels remained stable and their attention to mother and displays of positive emotion increased. "The findings show the physiological and behavioral changes by mom and baby to different song styles."

 

This study builds on a growing body of work about the social implications of musical engagement with others. Cirelli points to past studies showing that when people move together in synchrony, they feel socially connected and are later more likely to help and cooperate with one another. And in a study of toddlers, she and colleagues had similar findings: 14-month-olds who bounced synchronously with unfamiliar adults helped those adults substantially more by retrieving dropped objects than those who bounced with them asynchronously. "Music is a tool that we can use to bring people together, and this starts in infancy."

 

Music for a live audience

Despite being able to listen to music from virtually anywhere in modern times, people will still pay hundreds of dollars for the opportunity attend a live musical performance. Why? This question helps drive forward the work of Grahn and Molly Henry, both of the University of Ontario.

 

In new work she will be presenting at the CNS meeting today, Henry used the LIVELab at McMaster University to test how the presence of live performers and an audience changes the experience of concert-goers at a neural level, Specifically, she and colleagues looked at brain rhythm synchronization.

 

A live band played in front of 80 people, 20 of whom were having their brain activity recorded with EEG. They then compared those EEG measurements to those in two other conditions: one, in which 20 audience members were watching a recording of the first concert on a large movie screen with audio identical to the live concert; and another in which 20 participants in small groups of 2 were seated apart while they observed the recorded musical performance. "Thus, we manipulated the presence of the performers while keeping audience context fixed," the authors explain.

 

They found that audience members' brain waves were more synchronized with each other when the performers were present. Moreover, individuals whose brain rhythms were more synched up with other audience members enjoyed the concert more and felt more connected to the performers.

 

"I was extremely excited to see that across the live audience, brain rhythms were synchronized in exactly the frequency range that corresponds to the 'beat' of the music, so it looks as if the beat is driving audience brain rhythms," Henry says. "That may seem common sense, but it's really something. These are novel findings in the context of live music listening that are providing insights into the more social side of music listening."

 

Music for the future

Moving forward, Henry says that the biggest challenge for studying musical rhythm is that "there's so much other stuff tied up in the experience of music and rhythm listening or performing. Music makes us want to move, it elicits emotions, it triggers memories." Teasing apart these influences will require creative stimulus and experimental design combined with integration of converging evidence across lots of different studies.

 

In the meantime, Grahn says: "We are seeing relationships between rhythm and language abilities, attention, development, hearing acuity, and even social interactions. Every sensation we have or action we make on the world unfolds over time, and we are now beginning to understand why humans are sensitive to certain types of patterns in time, but not others." Understanding these patterns will inform not only basic science, she says, but also potential music-driven therapies for patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180327102835.htm

 

Women have more active brains than men

Largest functional brain imaging study to date identifies specific brain differences between women and men, according to a new report in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease

August 7, 2017

Science Daily/IOS Press

In the largest functional brain imaging study to date, researchers compared 46,034 brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) imaging studies provided by nine clinics, quantifying differences between the brains of men and women.

 

Lead author, psychiatrist Daniel G. Amen, MD, founder of Amen Clinics, Inc., commented, "This is a very important study to help understand gender-based brain differences. The quantifiable differences we identified between men and women are important for understanding gender-based risk for brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. Using functional neuroimaging tools, such as SPECT, are essential to developing precision medicine brain treatments in the future."

 

The brains of women in the study were significantly more active in many more areas of the brain than men, especially in the prefrontal cortex, involved with focus and impulse control, and the limbic or emotional areas of the brain, involved with mood and anxiety. The visual and coordination centers of the brain were more active in men. SPECT can measure blood perfusion in the brain. Images acquired from subjects at rest or while performing various cognitive tasks will show different blood flow in specific brain regions.

 

Subjects included 119 healthy volunteers and 26,683 patients with a variety of psychiatric conditions such as brain trauma, bipolar disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia/psychotic disorders, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A total of 128 brain regions were analyzed for subjects at baseline and while performing a concentration task.

 

Understanding these differences is important because brain disorders affect men and women differently. Women have significantly higher rates of Alzheimer's disease, depression, which is itself is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, and anxiety disorders, while men have higher rates of (ADHD), conduct-related problems, and incarceration (by 1,400%).

 

Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Dean of the College of Sciences at The University of Texas at San Antonio, Dr. George Perry said, "Precisely defining the physiological and structural basis of gender differences in brain function will illuminate Alzheimer's disease and understanding our partners."

 

The study findings of increased prefrontal cortex blood flow in women compared to men may explain why women tend to exhibit greater strengths in the areas of empathy, intuition, collaboration, self-control, and appropriate concern. The study also found increased blood flow in limbic areas of the brains of women, which may also partially explain why women are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and eating disorders.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170807120521.htm

 

Workplace sexual harassment 'a chronic problem,' says expert

More research needed to help predict who will harass, assess effective prevention strategies

November 16, 2017

Science Daily/American Psychological Association

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a pervasive, chronic problem that can cause enduring psychological harm, according to an expert.

 

"Sexual harassment in the workplace is a significant occupational health psychology problem," said APA President Antonio E. Puente, PhD. "Psychological research has offered understanding into the causes of workplace harassment, as well as some strategies for preventing or reducing it. However, there is limited research regarding the characteristics of harassers, which makes it difficult to predict who will do it and where and when it might happen. What we do know is that harassers tend to lack a social conscience and engage in manipulative, immature, irresponsible and exploitative behaviors."

 

Research has shown that sexual harassment is primarily aimed at women, but men are also targets of such behavior. Perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace are not only supervisors/superiors but are also coworkers, subordinates, customers and clients, Puente said.

 

According to the 2017 article "Sexual Harassment: Have We Made Any Progress?" published in APA's Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, women tend to report more adverse effects than men after experiencing workplace sexual harassment. These may include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress and a lower level of overall happiness.

 

Women are more likely to report sexual harassment than men, according to the article, but "studies indicate that men may be at a higher risk of mental health issues and depression." Men in the military are 10 times more likely to experience sexual harassment than civilian men, but an estimated 81 percent of military men who are harassed do not report it, the articles added.

 

Organizational climate is a strong predictor of workplace sexual harassment and can include situations where men outnumber women, where supervisors are predominantly male, and where there is a sense among employees that complaints will not be taken seriously. Research has shown that hierarchical power dynamics are at the root of sexual harassment.

 

"Psychology can help, in the form of sexual harassment training, but it only works if it is part of a comprehensive, committed effort to combat the problem," Puente said. "Most research points to sanctions as the primary way that organizations can be less tolerant of harassment.

 

"Organizations need to be proactive in establishing policies prohibiting sexual harassment, raising employee awareness, establishing reporting procedures and educating employees about these policies. More research is needed to identify the antecedents to harassment that will help employees and managers identify and respond appropriately."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171116142131.htm

Women-run start-ups hampered by bias among male investors

November 16, 2017

Science Daily/California Institute of Technology

Researchers examined data for nearly 18,000 start-ups and found that companies started by women have a harder time finding funding because male investors prefer companies started by men.

 

The study's authors, Michael Ewens of Caltech and Richard Townsend of UC San Diego, analyzed nearly 18,000 start-ups to identify the "chicken and egg" situation faced by women entrepreneurs. Because female-led start-ups face tougher funding prospects than male-led start-ups, fewer women enter the tech entrepreneur pipeline that ultimately feeds the ranks of venture capitalists. Without an adequate supply of female venture capitalists, women-founded start-ups continue to struggle to find funding.

 

"Women are treated differently than their male counterparts. They receive less interest and, in the end, less funding from male investors," says Ewens, a Caltech professor of finance and entrepreneurship.

 

To reach that conclusion, the authors analyzed data from 2010 to 2015 on the fates of start-ups with profiles on AngelList, a website that connects start-up companies with investors. Data collected by the site showed how much interest companies were garnering from investors as well as the gender of the founders and interested investors. Ewens and Townsend combined those data with other information they collected about whether the start-ups ultimately found funding, failed, went public, or were purchased by another company.

 

They found that male-led companies were almost twice as likely to receive funding from male investors than were female-led companies. Male-led companies also had a higher chance of being asked to meet with a male investor and of being "shared" from AngelList onto other platforms like Facebook or Twitter by a male investor.

 

Among the start-ups seeking funding on AngelList, 16 percent were founded by women. However, Ewens and Townsend found that female-founded companies only made up 13.5 percent of companies that had success finding funding on the platform.

 

Why were female-founded companies treated differently? Ewens and Townsend explored a few possible explanations that ultimately the data didn't support.

 

Do men build better companies?

 

One possibility is that start-ups founded and led by women have undesirable characteristics that investors are responding to that were not obvious to the researchers. If this were the case, potential investors of both genders would have good reason to prefer companies founded by men. However, the data revealed that women-founded companies were less desirable only to male investors. Female investors actually slightly preferred women-founded companies, suggesting that the women-founded companies did not have uniquely undesirable characteristics.

 

Ewens and Townsend also explored the possibility that women investors were partnering with women founders out of a desire to help other women succeed regardless of the start-up quality. "We wondered if maybe women investors are investing in women because they want to make money and help women," Ewens says. "That would result in women-women pairings that underperform."

 

To account for potential differences in the ability of investors to pick good investments, the researchers compared outcomes of companies against others within the same portfolio, asking the question, "When an investor funds a company founded by someone of their same gender, does the company perform differently than the same investor's other investments?"

 

The data revealed, however, that the worst performers were in fact male-founded start-ups that paired with male investors. Female-female, male-female, and female-male pairs all performed better.

 

A matter of focus?

 

Ewens and Townsend also wondered if sector focus -- the field in which the start-ups operate -- was playing a role. That is, if a female-founded company is focused on makeup, and a male investor isn't familiar with this sector, he might shy away and opt to invest instead in a male start-up that sells facial-hair grooming products.

 

To account for such possible preferences, the researchers developed a subsample of "gender-neutral" start-ups without a clear masculine or feminine focus -- biotech firms, for example. They found that even among these start-ups, male investors were more likely to pair with male-founded companies.

 

Risk and reward?

 

A third idea possibility that men and women prefer different levels of risk, both on the start-up side and the investment side, and that same-gender pairings between entrepreneurs and investors are driven by that preference.

 

"There is some experimental evidence that women are more risk averse," Ewens says. "So, female-founded firms may be less risky or the founders may pursue different growth strategies than male-founded firms do."

 

Female-run companies with more conservative business plans that present less risk -- but also less chance of a big payoff -- might align better with the interests of a risk-averse female investor. On the other hand, male-founded companies, which tend to take more business risks -- but have a higher potential for financial reward -- might appeal more to male investors.

 

To test the hypothesis, the researchers looked at cross-gender pairings of male founders and female investors.

 

If female investors are more risk averse, the argument goes, they should be more likely to choose male-founded companies with safer business approaches -- and, because of their conservatism, those same male-founded companies should have a harder time attracting male investors.

 

But these patterns are not observed in the data, Ewens and Townsend found. Male-run companies that paired up with female investors still garnered significant interest from male investors.

 

A matter of taste

 

With company quality, sector focus, and risk aversion ruled out, Ewens and Townsend were left with only one likely explanation: taste-based discrimination. That is, male investors simply prefer to fund male-founded companies for reasons that may include outright sexism as well as subtler factors, such as a desire among male venture capitalists to mentor young entrepreneurs who remind them of themselves.

 

Because investment preferences are personal and not easily identified, Ewens says it would be difficult, if not impossible, to create laws or regulations that would prevent discrimination in investments. A more successful approach would include efforts to increase the number of women investors, though that will take some time to begin paying off.

 

"There's no quick fix; however, if we continue to lower the barriers to becoming an investor, the pool of venture capitalists will begin to look more like the general population, and the gender gap will shrink," he says.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171116142126.htm

Hair cortisol levels predict which mothers are more likely to suffer postpartum depression

November 13, 2017

Science Daily/University of Granada

Researchers from the University of Granada (UGR), who belong to the Brain, Mind and Behavior Research Center (CIMCYC, from its abbreviation in Spanish) and the Faculty of Psychology, have proven that cortisol levels (a steroid hormone secreted as a response to stress) present in the hair of pregnant women during the first or third trimesters of pregnancy may indicate which of them are more likely to suffer postpartum depression.

 

Their work, published in the PLoS ONE journal, showed that hair cortisol levels in women who developed postpartum depression were higher throughout pregnancy than those seen in women who hadn't developed it, being that difference statistically more significant during the first and third trimesters.

 

The UGR researchers carried out their study doing a follow-up on 44 pregnant women throughout the whole gestation period and after giving birth. Each trimester the mothers underwent a series of tests that evaluated their stress and psychopathological symptoms while simultaneously taking hair samples from which the researchers extracted the cortisol corresponding to the last three months.

 

The following days after labor the researchers evaluated the mothers' emotional state in order to assess who among them had developed postpartum depression.

 

Quarterly psychopathological symptoms

 

Additionally, the results of the study showed that the participants which developed postpartum depression showed higher levels of somatization during the first trimester. During the second trimester they showed higher levels of somatization, obsession-compulsion, depression and anxiety, and during the third trimester they showed higher levels of somatization and pregnancy-specific stress. Therefore, all those symptoms along with higher levels of cortisol would be indicators of a future postpartum depression.

 

As María Isabel Peralta Ramírez, lead researcher of the project says, the consequences of those results are very important in the prevention of postpartum depression, "since they show that there are various altered psychological and hormonal variables throughout the whole gestation period in comparison to those women who will not suffer postpartum depression. Detecting those differences is the key to anticipate the psychological state of the mother as well as the consequences for the baby that said state could mean."

 

This study belongs to the GESTASTRESS research project, in the research excellence framework of the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. Its primary goal has been to assess the effects of psychological stress on the mother throughout the whole gestation period as well as on birth variables, and on the baby's stress and neurodevelopment.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171113111040.htm

Both obese and anorexic women have low levels of 'feel good' neurosteroid

November 10, 2017

Science Daily/University of Illinois at Chicago

Women at opposite extremes of the weight spectrum have low levels of the neuroactive steroid allopregnanolone, according to new research.

 

Previous research has linked low levels of allopregnanolone -- known to scientists as "allo" -- to depression and anxiety, which are common mood disorders associated with anorexia nervosa and obesity.

 

Allo is a metabolite of the hormone progesterone, one of the two major female hormones (the other being estrogen). Allo binds to receptors for the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. These receptors are also the targets of anti-anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines. Allo works by enhancing the signal produced when GABA binds to its receptor, generally producing a positive mood and feelings of well-being.

 

More than 50 percent of women with anorexia nervosa have depression or anxiety, and 43 percent of adults who are obese have depression.

 

Low levels of allo have been linked to depression and anxiety in numerous previous studies, including people with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. But the chemical -- and its impact on mood -- has not been measured in anorexic or obese women.

 

"We are beginning to see more and more evidence that low allo levels are tightly linked to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mood disorders," said Graziano Pinna, associate professor of psychiatry in the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine and an author on the paper. "To see that women with anorexia nervosa and obesity have low levels adds to the picture that the role of allo is under-recognized in mood disorders."

 

Pinna's colleagues, led by Dr. Karen Miller, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, recruited 12 women with anorexia nervosa and amenorrhea (stopped having their menstrual periods) whose body mass indices were less than 18.5; 12 normal-weight women with BMIs between 19 and 24; and 12 obese women with BMIs at 25 or higher. None of the women had received a diagnosis of depression or ever took antidepressants. The average age of the participants was 26 years old.

 

Participants completed questionnaires to assess for depression and anxiety and had blood drawn. Blood measurements of allo and other hormones were performed by Pinna's lab at the UIC. The lab had previously developed a novel, highly sensitive method technology to detect sex hormones and their metabolites. Pinna's lab is one of only three in the United States performing these measurements, which use gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to pick up extremely small levels of these chemicals in blood serum, saliva and brain tissue.

 

The researchers found that in women with anorexia nervosa and in obese women, blood levels of allo were 50 percent lower than they were in women with normal BMIs, and women who were clinically obese had allo levels approximately 60 percent lower than women with normal weights.

 

The researchers also found that levels of allo in all participants correlated with the severity of their depression and anxiety symptoms as measured by the questionnaires. Participants with lower levels of allo had greater severity of depression symptoms.

 

Progesterone levels were similarly low across all groups, suggesting that the decrease in allo in participants with anorexia nervosa and obesity may have been caused by improper functioning of enzymes responsible for the metabolism of progesterone into allo.

 

"Women with anorexia nervosa had low progesterone because they were amenorrheic, and the other two groups also had low progesterone levels because their blood was taken in the follicular phase when progesterone is naturally low," said Pinna. "That we found that obese women had lower allo levels than normal weight participants adds to growing evidence that this steroid is involved in depression and anxiety regardless of how much progesterone is available to begin with."

 

Pinna believes that the enzymes that convert progesterone into allo may not be working properly, causing decreases in allo that lead to mood disorders. "Drugs that increase the efficacy of these enzymes may be useful in helping to boost allo levels," he said. "But more research is needed to figure out exactly the deficit in the metabolism of progesterone into allo so that precision medicines using allo as a biomarker can be developed."

 

"Depression is an incredibly prevalent problem, especially in women, and also particularly at the extremes of the weight spectrum," said Miller. "The hope is that a greater understanding of mechanisms contributing to these disorders -- including abnormalities in the regulation of hormones and their neuroactive metabolites -- may lead to new targeted therapies in the future."

 

Pinna is leading preclinical studies of drugs designed to boost allo levels using several pharmacological strategies. These drugs have had promising effects in mouse models of PTSD and depression.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171110164029.htm

Depressed fathers risk not getting help

November 6, 2017

Science Daily/Lund University

Postnatal depression among new mothers is a well-known phenomenon. Knowledge about depression in new fathers, however, is more limited. A new study shows that depression among new fathers may be more common than previously believed. There is also a major risk that it remains undetected using today's screening instruments, and that fathers do not receive the help they need.

 

Detecting depression in new parents is crucial -- not only for their own sake but also because depressed parents often become less perceptive to the needs of their child, particularly if the child cries a lot. Babies of depressed parents tend to receive less stimulation which, eventually, could lead to slower development. In some cases, depression may lead to neglect of the child or inappropriately forceful behaviors.

 

"These behaviours are not unusual -- depression does not only involve major suffering for the parent, but also a risk for the child," says Elia Psouni, associate professor of developmental psychology and co-author of the study, together with psychologists Johan Agebjörn and Hanne Linder.

 

All new mothers are screened for depression, and an estimated 10-12 per cent of women are affected during their first year after giving birth. Fathers, however, are not screened, but previous international studies claim that the proportion of depressed fathers amounts to just over 8 per cent.

 

The study of 447 new fathers showed that the established method of detecting depression (EPDS, Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) works poorly on men.

 

"This means that current statistics may not tell the whole truth when it comes to depression in new fathers," says Elia Psouni. "The screening method does not capture symptoms which are particularly common in men, such as irritation, restlessness, low stress tolerance, and lack of self-control."

 

Although one-third of the depressed fathers in the study had thoughts of hurting themselves, very few were in contact with the healthcare system. Among those who were classified being moderately to severely depressed, 83 per cent had not shared their suffering with anyone. Although difficult to know, the corresponding figure for new mothers is believed to be 20-50 per cent.

 

"Telling people you feel depressed is taboo; as a new parent, you are expected to be happy. On top of that, previous research has shown that men are often reluctant to seeking help for mental health issues, especially depression; therefore it's doubtful that they would reveal their suffering to a paediatric nurse," says Elia Psouni.

 

Elia Psouni, Johan Agebjörn and Hanne Linder hope that their study will lead to improved screening methods in accordance with their suggestions, delivered so that it can reach all fathers. The method they developed, which combines questions from EPDS and GMDS (Gotland Male Depression Scale), proved to be well-suited for capturing dads with multiple symptoms of depression.

 

When it comes to screening depression in fathers, Elia Psouni thinks that the period to consider should be longer than the 12 months currently applied in studies of new mothers.

 

"Among dads, depression is common even at the end of the first year, which may be due to the fact that they rarely get help, but there may be other explanations. Whatever the reason, it is important to monitor dads' wellbeing as their part of the parental leave usually occurs towards the end of the child's first year of life."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171106112238.htm

More physical activity and higher intensity physical activity may significantly reduce risk of death in older women in the short term

November 6, 2017

Science Daily/American Heart Association

Using wearable devices to measure activity showed that the amount of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity was associated with an up to 70 percent lower risk of death among older women in a four-year study. The amount of light intensity physical activity was not associated with death risk, but that may not negate the benefits of light activity for other health outcomes.

 

Researchers found the volume of light intensity physical activity or sedentary behavior was not associated with death rate. However, light intensity activity may be beneficial for other health outcomes not studied in this research.

 

Previous studies, which used self-reports, showed that active people have about 20 percent to 30 percent lower death rates compared to their least active counterparts.

 

This research, conducted from 2011 to 2015, is among the first to investigate physical activity, measured using a wearable device called a triaxial accelerometer, and a clinical outcome. The device is capable of measuring activity along three planes: up and down, front to back and side to side. These capabilities increase sensitivity to detect physical activity and allow for more precise measurements.

 

"We used devices to better measure not only higher intensity physical activities, but also lower intensity activities and sedentary behavior, which has become of great interest in the last few years," said I-Min Lee, M.B.B.S., Sc.D., the study's first author and professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard University's medical and public health schools in Boston, Massachusetts.

 

More than 17,700 women (average age 72) who were asked to wear the device for seven days, when awake, returned their devices. Data were analyzed from 16,741 compliant participants (i.e., their devices showed it was worn for at least 10 hours a day, on at least four days). During an average follow-up of approximately two-and-a-half years, 207 women died.

 

Researchers found:

 

·      More moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking) was associated with roughly a 60 percent to 70 percent lower risk of death at the end of the study among the most active women, compared to the least active.

·      More light intensity activity (such as housework and slow walking -- e.g., window shopping in a mall), or more sedentary behavior was not independently associated with death risk at the study's end. Researchers stressed this finding does not mean light activity isn't beneficial for other health outcomes not studied here.

 

Researchers chose this study population to begin addressing knowledge gaps, said Lee who is also an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Younger people in their 20s and 30s generally can participate in vigorous intensity activities, such as running or playing basketball. But for older people, vigorous intensity activity may be impossible, and moderate intensity activity may not even be achievable. So, we were interested in studying potential health benefits associated with light intensity activities that most older people can do."

 

The study's participants, selected from the Women's Health Study, were relatively healthy, and mostly white women, therefore the findings may have limited generalizability to other groups of people.

 

The findings support 2008 federal guidelines and American Heart Association that suggest at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (or a combination of the two) and muscle-strengthening exercises two or more days a week.

 

"We hope to continue this study in the future to examine other health outcomes, and particularly to investigate the details of how much and what kinds of activity are healthful. What is irrefutable is the fact that physical activity is good for your health," Lee said.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171106085826.htm

Mindfulness may help mothers cope with stress when their babies have a heart condition

Working with mothers, nurse researchers form CHOP and Penn Nursing analyze coping techniques, including positive focus on here and now

November 2, 2017

Science Daily/Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Mindfulness may offer an active coping mechanism for mothers faced with the stress of having a newborn diagnosed with congenital heart disease (CHD). Mindfulness, which aims to increase a person's awareness and acceptance of daily experiences, is currently used in a variety of healthcare settings as a potentially effective skill for stress reduction, emotion, affect and attention regulation.

 

A team of nurse-researchers from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing) published a study in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing in which they gathered perspectives on coping mechanisms from focus groups with 14 mothers of critically ill infants, and explored the feasibility of mindfulness as a stress-reduction technique.

 

"Mothers of infants with complex congenital heart disease are exposed to increased stress, which has been associated with numerous adverse outcomes," said Barbara Medoff-Cooper, PhD, RN FAAN, principal investigator and nurse scientist in the Cardiac Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and at Penn Nursing. "The coping mechanisms these mothers use critically impacts the family's adaptation to the illness, and most likely infant outcomes as well."

 

"Thus far, parental interventions in the CICU generally are informative or educational, aiming to increase parental abilities to actively manage the caretaking demands of an infant with CHD," said Nadya Golfenshtein, PhD, RN, lead author of the study and a researcher at Penn Nursing. "Mindfulness can be a helpful tool that assists mothers during an incredibly stressful time for them, and for their family by allowing them to pause and be present in the moment rather than wishing something different was happening or worrying about tomorrow."

 

The researchers collected data during focus groups between July 2015 and March 2016. The sessions included a short introduction to mindfulness as a stress reduction intervention, led by a moderator who is a psychotherapist experienced in group formats.

 

"In the study, mothers described the post-diagnostic period, surgery and the cardiac intensive care unit stay as extremely stressful," said Amy J. Lisanti, PhD, RN, CCNS, CCRN-K, nurse researcher at CHOP and NRSA postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. "Many expressed concerns regarding the post-discharge period when they would need to independently handle their infant's condition. Their increased stress often led them to feel out of control, lethargic and not like themselves. They acknowledged the importance of stress reduction, recognizing that relief from stress could help them sleep better, recharge energy, focus and think clearly."

 

After experiencing a brief guided session of mindfulness in a focus group, one mother said, "Most meditation is about clear your mind and lose focus, but this is to focus on now. I think it works for me, I was never able to do the clear mind thing. This is more accessible to me." Another noted, "This is something I'm doing for myself, remembering I'm part of this too. Sometimes you are on autopilot, making sure everyone else is ok. Yes, this is a moment when I'm doing something for myself."

 

The mothers agreed that mindfulness should start early, preferably immediately after the prenatal CHD diagnosis. That way, they felt, that they would have time to learn and practice the skill by the time the baby is born. There was also a general agreement that the worst time to begin the practice is around surgery, as that is an overwhelming time and mothers are too busy to learn a new skill. The mothers preferred engaging in mindfulness in a private, quiet room as the sounds of the CICU stress them and may prevent them from relaxing.

 

"We hope to design a program that draws from these findings and more research on mindfulness meditation is needed in a larger cohort of mothers," added Golfenshtein.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171102124912.htm

Bonding benefits of breastfeeding extend years beyond infancy

Longer breastfeeding predicts increases in maternal sensitivity over time

October 30, 2017

Science Daily/American Psychological Association

Women who breastfeed their children longer exhibit more maternal sensitivity well past the infant and toddler years, according to a 10-year longitudinal study.

 

The results held even after accounting for maternal neuroticism, parenting attitudes, ethnicity, mother's education and presence of a romantic partner. The findings are published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

 

"It was surprising to us that breastfeeding duration predicted change over time in maternal sensitivity," said the study's lead author, Jennifer Weaver, PhD, of Boise State University. "We had prior research suggesting a link between breastfeeding and early maternal sensitivity, but nothing to indicate that we would continue to see effects of breastfeeding significantly beyond the period when breastfeeding had ended."

 

Maternal sensitivity was defined as the synchronous timing of a mother's responsiveness to her child, her emotional tone, her flexibility in her behavior and her ability to read her child's cues.

 

Even though increased breastfeeding duration led to greater maternal sensitivity over time, the effect sizes were small, according to the article. That means the close interaction experienced during breastfeeding may be only one of many ways the bond is strengthened between mother and child, according to Weaver.

 

The researchers analyzed data from interviews with 1,272 families who participated in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Study of Early Child Care. Recruited from 10 sites around the U.S. in 1991 when their infants were a month old, mothers completed a home interview and became part of the initial study sample. The sample included a substantial proportion of less-educated parents (30 percent had no college education), and ethnic minority families (13 percent were African-American).

 

Women in the study breastfed for an average of 17 weeks. Fewer than 1 percent breastfed for 24 months and 29 percent didn't breastfeed at all. Researchers interviewed and videotaped families in their homes periodically until their child turned 11.

 

As part of the study, parents interacted with their children during free play scenarios and age-appropriate problem-solving tasks. For example, at the six-month visit, parents and babies played with a set of toys and, when the children were 4, they would complete a maze together. When the children were in fifth grade, mothers talked to their child about an area of possible disagreement, and also worked with their child to build a tower out of toothpicks. Researchers rated the quality of the collaborative interaction, such as the mother's level of support, respect for her child's autonomy and levels of hostility.

 

While fathers participated in the home interviews, there was no correlation between the mother's breastfeeding length and men's sensitivity toward their children.

 

The study is not intended to diminish the bonding experiences of women who are not able to breastfeed, said Weaver. "Ultimately, I do hope that we will see breastfeeding examined more closely as a parenting factor, not just as a health consideration, to allow us to more fully understand the role that breastfeeding plays in family life."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171030092921.htm

There is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy

October 24, 2017

Science Daily/Binghamton University

Any amount of alcohol exposure during pregnancy can cause extreme lasting effects on a child, according to new research.

 

A team of researchers led by Marvin Diaz, assistant professor of psychology at Binghamton University, determined that even a small to moderate amount of alcohol exposure produces significant amounts of anxiety in offspring, lasting through adolescence and into adulthood. This research differed in its use of only low levels of alcohol exposure, whereas prior studies used high levels of exposure to reach the same conclusion.

 

"There's been a lot of media coverage on whether there's a safe amount of alcohol to drink," said Diaz. "This study shows that there isn't."

 

Pregnant rats were exposed to ethyl alcohol vapor for a six-hour period on their twelfth day of gestation; this was the only time the rats were exposed to alcohol. The offspring were then subjected to a series of anxiety tests. The researchers found that anxiety was most apparent in male rats during their adolescence. After entering adulthood, the effects were opposite, with ethanol exposed male rats showing reduced anxiety, while the females still appear to be unaffected.

 

"The most important takeaway from this study is that the effects we studied on the rats only took one day of exposure to produce -- just six hours," said Diaz.

 

Diaz is interested in taking this research further, to determine exactly what changed in the brain to cause such increased levels of anxiety after alcohol exposure, and to see why the effects are apparent in male rats but not females.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171024130614.htm

Traumatic events take toll on the heart

New study links traumatic experiences with increased risk of heart disease, especially after the menopause transition

October 11, 2017

Science Daily/The North American Menopause Society (NAMS)

Today it seems about everything has been shown to lead to heart disease. Of course, smoking is bad for you, as is high blood pressure. There's even mounting evidence that psychosocial factors can cause heart problems. A new study demonstrates how traumatic experiences can affect vascular health and, ultimately, heart disease.

 

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in women. According to the American Heart Association, every minute in the US someone's mother, wife, daughter, or sister dies from a form a heart disease. To date, little research has been done to study the impact of traumatic experiences on vascular health as a precursor to heart disease. Even less work has focused on this relationship during the menopause transition when the risk of heart disease is naturally increasing, along with deteriorating endothelial function. (The endothelium is the inner lining of the heart and blood vessels.)

 

In this study of 272 peri- and postmenopausal nonsmoking women, researchers tested whether a greater number of lifetime traumatic experiences was related to poorer endothelial function, independent of demographic characteristics, other heart disease risk factors, estradiol, and childhood abuse history. The result was that women reporting a higher number of traumatic experiences (three or more) had poorer endothelial function which can make them more susceptible to a cardiac incident. For purposes of this study, traumatic experiences were defined as events such as sexual harassment, death of a child, being in a car accident, experiencing a natural disaster, or being beaten or mugged.

 

"These findings underscore the importance of psychosocial factors, such as trauma exposure, in the development of heart disease risk in midlife women," says Dr. Rebecca Thurston, lead author of the study from the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine.

 

"Given the large percentage of postmenopausal women affected by heart disease, this is an important study that should remind healthcare providers of the need to thoroughly discuss a woman's history beyond simply asking about her physical health," says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171011091739.htm

Iron supplements have long-term benefits for low birth-weight babies

Follow-up study finds early iron intervention can lower levels of aggression and rule-breaking behavior in children age 7

September 27, 2017

Science Daily/Springer

Babies classified as low birth weight (under 2,500 grams) are at risk of iron deficiency, which is linked to impaired neurological development. A long-term randomized study now shows that providing such babies with iron supplements can prevent behavioral problems at school age.

 

The findings are part of ongoing Swedish research involving 285 late preterm and term infants who weighed between 2000 grams and 2500 grams at birth, and were defined as being marginally low birth weight. This group represents a significant number of all births. The babies were randomly selected to receive either no iron supplements, or specific doses from the age of six weeks to six months.

 

Research up until now has shown that those babies given iron supplements had a lower risk of suffering from iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia by the time they were six months old. When the participants were tested again when they were 3 and a half years old, the ones in the supplement group had fewer behavioral problems than those who went without extra iron.

 

In this study, 207 of the participants from the initial investigation were tested at the age of seven. Berglund and his fellow researchers wanted to see if the early iron intervention influenced the children's cognitive and neurobehavioral abilities. The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children was used to assess the children's cognitive abilities. Their parents completed two standardized questionnaires about their children's behavior.

 

No major differences were found in the intelligence scores of the children in the two separate test groups. The magnitude of the intervention group to show externalizing problems was however significantly reduced compared to that of the children in the other. They had lower levels of aggressive and rule-breaking behavior, and did not suffer as many thought problems. The thought problems in question were recently shown to be the best independent predictor of autism spectrum disorders. This suggests that the behavioural and emotional profiles of low birth weight children who did not receive iron supplements include different symptoms of subclinical neurodevelopmental problems.

 

"Our findings suggest that iron supplementation may have long-lasting effects on behavioural functions in children born of a low birth weight," says Berglund. "This clinically important benefit from early iron supplementation gives further support to recommend iron supplementation of all low birth weight children, including those with marginally low birth weight."

 

On the population level this finding is important, since marginally low birth weight infants represent a relatively large proportion of all births. Up to five percent of infants born in high income countries and fifteen percent of those in low income countries are defined as such.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170927123600.htm

Postpartum depression risk, duration and recurrence

September 26, 2017

Science Daily/PLOS

Postpartum affective disorder (AD), including postpartum depression (PPD), affects more than one in two hundred women with no history of prior psychiatric episodes, and raises the risk of later affective disorder for those women, according to a new study.

 

PPD is estimated to affect more than 5 percent of all women following childbirth, making it the most common postnatal complication of childbearing. In the new study, researchers analyzed data from the Danish national registries on 457,317 women who had a first child (and subsequent births) between 1996 and 2013 and had no prior psychiatric hospital contacts or use of antidepressants. Postpartum AD was defined as an antidepressant prescription fill or hospital contact for depression within six months after birth.

 

In the Danish cohort, 0.6% of all childbirths among women with no history of psychiatric disease led to postpartum AD. A year after their first treatment, 27.9% of these women were still in treatment; after four years, that number was 5.4%. For women with a hospital contact for depression after a first birth, the risk of postpartum AD recurrence was 21%; the recurrence was 15% for women who took antidepressants after a first birth. These rates mean that, compared to women without history of AD, postpartum AD is 46 and 27 times higher in subsequent births for women with postpartum AD after their first birth.

 

"These population-based figures provide valuable guidance to physicians treating women with PPD," the authors say. "It underlines the seriousness of single initial episodes and highlights the necessity of both primary and secondary preventive measures of which several exist."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170926143559.htm

Maternal diet could affect kids' brain reward circuitry

Rats that ate junk food during pregnancy had pups that preferred the taste of fat during childhood and had altered brain circuitry into adulthood

September 25, 2017

Science Daily/Frontiers

Researchers have found that rats who ate junk food during pregnancy had heavier pups that strongly preferred fat straight after weaning. However, a balanced diet in childhood seemed to reduce the pups' desire for fat. The pups also showed altered brain reward circuitry into adulthood. The findings could have implications for childhood nutrition and obesity in Western countries.

 

The Western diet is full of energy-rich foods -- from hamburgers to chocolates, we consume significant quantities of fat and sugar. The health costs of this are well known, and conditions such as obesity and diabetes are related to overeating.

 

Factors underlying obesity include how we metabolize food, and our tendency to overeat and seek out energy-rich foods. The pleasure we derive from food stems from the brain reward circuitry, and changes in these reward circuits can contribute to overeating.

 

Surprisingly, pregnant or breastfeeding mothers who eat significant quantities of energy-rich foods can increase their child's risk for obesity in later life. However, scientists don't yet fully understand the mechanism behind this phenomenon.

 

In a study recently published in Frontiers in Endocrinology, scientists used rats to investigate the relationship between a mother's diet and their offspring's weight, relationship with food, and brain circuitry. The research team fed rats a high fat/high sugar diet (which they called the 'Western Diet'), or a balanced diet, during pregnancy and suckling. They monitored the mothers' pups straight after weaning, during adolescence and into early adulthood.

 

The pups primarily ate a balanced diet once they were weaned, but at specific times the researchers allowed some of the pups to choose between tasting a fatty or non-fatty liquid. The liquid wasn't fatty enough to affect the pups, but allowed the team to assess their preference for fat. Using brain tissue samples, the team also investigated gene expression and brain changes associated with the pups' reward circuitry.

 

While the pups from Western Diet mothers were a normal weight at birth, they gained more weight during suckling and were abnormally heavy at weaning. This may have been caused by the Western Diet mothers producing richer milk or more milk.

 

When the team allowed the just-weaned pups to choose between a fatty and non-fatty liquid, pups from Western Diet mothers strongly preferred the fatty liquid compared with pups from the balanced diet mothers.

 

However, when the team repeated this fat preference test with adolescent pups, they found that both groups showed a similar high preference for fat -- and interestingly, the pups from Western Diet mothers gradually lost their interest in fat after a few days. This might have been a compensatory mechanism to protect the pups from further exposure to fat. By adulthood, both types of pups had similar strong preferences for fat.

 

The pups from Western Diet mothers also showed significant changes in their reward circuitry, including differences in a brain region call the hypothalamus and changes in gene expression associated with a neurotransmitter called GABA.

 

"Previous studies have shown that when pups from Western Diet mothers have unlimited access to junk food they maintain their preference for fatty food into adolescence," says Vincent Paillé, a researcher involved in the study. "While the pups from Western Diet mothers in our study showed extensive changes in their reward circuitry, a balanced diet in childhood seemed to protect them from an increased fat preference at adolescence."

 

These findings could have implications for nutrition and obesity in human children in Western countries.

 

The team plan to further investigate the changes in reward circuitry caused by a maternal Western diet. "How these altered reward circuits integrate information could be different, and these pups might behave differently under stress or when they have free access to fatty food," says Paillé.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170925104719.htm

Preterm children have more medical sleep problems but fall asleep more independently

Sleep problems linked to negative emotionality and lower attention

September 21, 2017

Science Daily/American Academy of Sleep Medicine

A new study suggests that while healthy preterm children have more medical sleep problems than full-term children, they are more likely to fall asleep independently.

 

Results show that preterm children displayed more medical sleep problems such as nocturnal movement, restlessness during the night and breathing problems, compared with those born at full term. However, a lower degree of behavioral sleep problems were present in preterm children.

 

"Preterm children needed less support to fall asleep and fell asleep more often alone in their own bed compared to those born at full term," said principal investigator Dr. Barbara Caravale, a researcher in the Department of Developmental and Social Psychology at Sapienza University in Rome, Italy. "However, preterm children showed more frequent sleep difficulties, such as restlessness and breathing problems during the night."

 

Study results are published in the September 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

 

The study involved 51 preterm children with normal cognitive, language, and motor development, and 57 full-term children. Their average age was 21 months. Mothers completed a series of questionnaires to assess sleep-related difficulties, sleep habits and child temperament.

 

The study found no differences between the two groups of children in bedtime, rise time or sleep duration. However, Caravale noted that the sleep problems reported by the parents of preterms may have resulted in sleep disruption, which could help explain significant differences in attention and emotionality.

 

"We observed a link between sleep pattern and temperament in preterm children," said Caravale. "Our study found that sleep problems were related to increased negative emotionality and decreased attention."

 

According to the authors, these results are consistent with previous studies demonstrating that children born preterm are at risk of attention and learning problems as well as emotional difficulties. For this reason, it is important that pediatricians screen for sleep problems more rigorously in preterm children, especially with respect to sleep-related breathing disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and sleep-related movement disorders.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170921161300.htm

 

Midlife depression may stem from tension with mothers and siblings

September 20, 2017

Science Daily/Iowa State University

Relationships with our mothers and siblings continue to have an effect on our well-being, particularly at midlife. A new study found that tension with our mothers and siblings, similar to our spouses, is associated with symptoms of depression.

 

A new study led by Iowa State University researcher Megan Gilligan found that tension with our mothers and siblings, similar to our spouses, is associated with symptoms of depression. The research, published in the journal Social Sciences, found all three relationships have a similar effect and one is not stronger than another.

 

"Family scholars have focused a lot on the relationship we have with our spouse," said Gilligan, an assistant professor of human development and family studies. "There is this assumption that as you go through your life course, you leave these other relationships with your parents and siblings behind, but you don't. You carry those with you."

 

The relationship between mothers and daughters is even more significant. The research shows tension between mothers and adult children was a stronger predictor of depression for daughters than it was for sons. However, gender did not make a difference in relationships with spouses and siblings. Gilligan says this makes sense based on her previous research.

 

"We know that mothers and daughters in adulthood have the closest relationships and also the most conflictual. These are really intense relationships," she said. "Later in life, adult children start providing more care to their parents, and daughters in particular are often caregivers for their mothers."

 

Midlife is key to findings

 

Midlife is often characterized as stable and uneventful, but in reality, it is a time of change and transition for many people, Gilligan said. For example, adult children may be leaving the house and aging parents start requiring more care. Additionally, researchers know that midlife adults often react more strongly to family conflict than older adults do.

 

While there is a great deal of research on young families and family dynamics later in life, there is a gap at midlife, Gilligan said. Given the potential for greater conflict with mothers or siblings related to these midlife changes, it is important to understand the consequences of negative relationships on our psychological well-being.

 

"Midlife is a time when siblings are often coming back together as they prepare and navigate care for parents," she said. "For that reason, it's a pivotal time when these family relationships might be experiencing more tension, more strain, more discord."

 

Professionals should consider whole family

 

The research team used data collected through the Within-Family Differences Study. Their analysis included 495 adult children within 254 families. For a majority of families, multiple siblings participated in the study. Researchers measured depressive symptoms and tension among family members through survey questions. They controlled for race, gender and education.

 

In the paper, Gilligan and her colleagues explained that they expected all three relationships would predict depressive symptoms, but the effect would vary depending on the salience of the relationship. The fact that they found no significant difference between spouses, mothers and siblings is important to note, especially for practitioners. Gilligan says instead of focusing solely on a romantic partner or spouse, marriage and family therapists should ask about other sources of family stress.

 

"These findings show that we are navigating other family relationships at the same time and we're not experiencing them in isolation; we're experiencing them simultaneously," Gilligan said. "The stress people are experiencing may be the result of a romantic partner or spouse. However, it could also be that they're fighting with their siblings or they're experiencing a lot of tension with their mother even though they are 50 years old."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170920113555.htm

 

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