The Effect of Maternal Stress During Pregnancy on Fetal Brain Development



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Exposure to prenatal stress has been found to be associated with numerous adverse child developmental outcomes. However, it is not clear as to how exactly maternal stress during pregnancy interacts with child development to result in these adverse outcomes. The postnatal environment proves an important confound to this line of research, as does the interaction maternal stress during pregnancy has with birth outcomes. Because of that, certain investigators have taken advantage of recent improvements in MRI to study the fetal brain and its relationship with maternal stress during pregnancy. The purpose of this summer project was to accomplish two things. The first was to synthesize findings within this relatively new field of research in the form of a literature review. The second was to assist with an ongoing pilot research project that sought to add to this body of research. This project, known as the Women's Experiences and Baby Brain Study, seeks to find out the relationship between maternal stress during pregnancy and fetal brain structural development and metabolic levels. Importantly, this project adds to literature through the inclusion of Covid-19 pandemic related stress in its definition of maternal stress during pregnancy. Thus, my SURF project sought to assist in the collection and processing of data within this pilot project, as well as create a systematic review of already existing information on the association between maternal stress during pregnancy and fetal brain development.