A recent study has highlighted the impact a mothers’ stress can have on her children – showing how babies can pick up on their parents’ change of vocal tone, touch and smell during stressful situations.
Published in the journal, Psychological Science, researchers involved in the study recruited 69 mothers and their 12 to 14-month-old babies in order to examine the emotional synchrony between mother and child. The tests involved putting the mothers through stressful tasks, and then measuring the babies’ emotion and heart rates to identify how they picked up on their mother’s stress. Findings showed the greater cardiac stress in the mother, the greater the baby’s response.
Sara Waters, lead researcher and postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Francisco said of the study:
“Our research shows that infants ‘catch’ and embody the physiological residue of their mothers’ stressful experiences.
“Your infant may not be able to tell you that you seem stressed or ask you what is wrong, but our work shows that, as soon as she is in your arms, she is picking up on the bodily responses accompanying your emotional state and immediately begins to feel in her own body your own negative emotion.”
Ultimately babies show extreme sensitivity to their parents’ emotions and moods, and the effect of prevailing or continual stress on young children has long been a concern of doctors.
While parenthood is expected to bring daily stresses and worries that kids will recognise in their parents, there may be occasions where kids will be exposed to violence or trauma which will trigger unhealthy toxic levels of stress. This can have a dramatic impact on the health of the child.
Research has shown that childhood stress can disrupt early brain development – resulting in the formation of a smaller brain – and compromise the effective functioning of a child’s immune and nervous systems. Childhood stress has also been linked to health problems such as alcoholism, cancer, depression and other chronic diseases.
Parents are therefore encouraged to develop good coping tools in order to effectively manage their stress so they do not overwhelm their babies. To find out more about how a counsellor can help you deal with stress, visit our stress page.