Water and Ice: How Prenatal Exposure to a Natural Disaster Influences the Pregnancy, the Mother, and the Infant with Suzanne King PhD

In this presentation, I will introduce the audience to the concept of the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD), and to the field of study on prenatal maternal stress (PNMS). By randomly assign pregnant laboratory animals to varying degrees of stress, and at varying times in gestation, basic science researchers find that PNMS impacts many different realms of development in the offspring: physical, cognitive, behavioral and motor. However, PNMS research in humans is challenged by the impossibility of controlling stressful conditions for random samples of pregnant women in an experimental setting. Since the 1998 Quebec ice storm, I have used this and other natural disasters to approximate the experimental control available to basic scientists in order to better understand the biopsychosocial dynamics of PNMS in humans. I will describe our research methods, and present the results from our “natural experiments” that shed light on the effects of PNMS on the unborn child, on the mechanisms of those effects, and on risk and protective factors operating before and after the birth.

Suzanne King is a research psychologist. The primary objective of her research is to increase understanding of the effects of prenatal maternal stress on the cognitive, behavioral, physical, and motor development of the unborn child.

Her work is unique in the use of five natural disasters (ice storm, floods, wildfire) as quasi-random stressors, approximating the experimental method used in animal research. Her unique psychosocial methods assess objective, subjective, and cognitive aspects of women’s stress experience.


Posted on February 22, 2022 by Jess Kimball