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This review examines current literature about the structural and physiological effects of gestational stress on the brain of the fetus.
A growing body of research indicates that high levels of prenatal maternal stress (PNMS) can have lasting negative impacts on offspring. This review examines current literature about the structural and physiological effects of gestational stress on the brain of the fetus. Specific focuses include the structure and function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and how it is affected by high levels of maternal stress and how glucocorticoids such as cortisol cross the placenta and developing blood-brain barrier, altering the formation of the brain and its synapses. In addition, protective factors to prenatal stress are reviewed, such as placental enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11β-HSD2). The postpartum and longitudinal effects of stress are also explored, linking prenatal hormones to postpartum health and behavior of offspring. The author concludes by exploring ways to reduce ante-and postpartum maternal stress by improving the preconceptive, prenatal, and maternal-infant care systems.
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