Project 2 Summary
A significant contribution to childhood and adult health and disease risk is attributable to developmental processes during fetal life. The fetus receives many signals from the mother, and we and others have published many studies that fetal exposure to maternal adversity has harmful effects on infant and child development and may even contribute to risk for disease later in life.
We will examine the consequences of several instances of fetal and infant exposure to fragmented signals. It is unknown if inconsistent maternal signals during pregnancy influence later development. We will examine the influence on the fetus of daily, weekly and monthly changes in maternal mood, including anxiety and depression, during pregnancy. We will follow mothers and their infants after birth to determine if the mismatch between fetal and infant exposures to maternal mood makes a significant contribution to later emotional and cognitive development. We also will examine the influence of the most dominant signal in fetal life, the beat of the mother’s heart. The human fetus is exposed to 25,000,000 heartbeats during its time in the womb and it is known that the fetal brain responds to each beat. It is not known, but will be tested in our Center, if fragmented or inconsistent patterns of maternal heartbeats alter the fetal brain in ways that increase vulnerabilities to emotional and cognitive deficits in early development. We will test the hypothesis that these early experiences influence male and female fetuses differently.
You can read the Project 2 Technical Description for a more detailed explanation.