The purpose of the study was to determine the specific periods during pregnancy in which human fetal exposure to stress hormones affects newborn physical and neuromuscular maturation. Blood was collected from 158 women at 15, 19, 25, and 31 weeks' gestation. Levels of placental corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and maternal cortisol were determined from plasma. Newborns were evaluated with the New Ballard Maturation Score. Results indicated that increases in maternal cortisol at 15, 19, and 25 weeks and increases in placental CRH at 31 weeks were significantly associated with decreases in infant maturation among mates (even after con trolling for length of gestation). Results also suggested that increases in maternal cortisol at 31 weeks were associated with increases in infant maturation among females, although these results were not significant after controlling for length of gestation. Findings suggest that stress hormones have effects on human fetal neurodevelopment that are independent of birth outcome.
Ellman LM*, Dunkel Schetter C, Hobel CJ, Chicz-DeMet A, Glynn LM & Sandman CA (2008). Timing of fetal exposure to stress hormones: effects on newborn physical and neuromuscular maturation. Developmental Psychobiology, 50, 232-241.