The results suggest infants’ brains may somehow detect their mother’s psychological state while in the womb, and this affects their development as their bodies prepare for life after birth, the researchers said.
If an infant in the womb is exposed to a challenging environment, such as his mother’s depression, he may be better able to respond to challenges later on. But if an infant is born into an environment he has not confronted, he may not react as well, the researchers said.
“The fetus is paying an active part in its own development,” said study researcher Curt Sandman, a professor emeritus in the department of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine. “It will then thrive in an environment that is like the one it is preparing for.”