Telomeres are the cellular structures that protect the ends of chromosomes during cell division. Telomeres can be lengthened by the enzyme telomerase. Telomere length is a marker of cell aging, that determines life expectancy and many age-related disorders.
Previous studies have established the relationship between maternal stress and poor pregnancy outcomes like placental function, premature birth, and the child’s general well-being. But the data on maternal protective factors and their positive effects on child development remains limited.
The mother’s ability to cope with stress during pregnancy, also known as ‘psychological resilience,’ is linked to telomere length. The more positive a mother’s attitude during pregnancy, the longer the children’s telomeres.
“Positive maternal psychological characteristics are biologically embedded and have a protective effect on the fetus,” says Prof. Dr. Sonja Entringer of Charit’s Institute of Medical Psychology .
The researchers studied a large population comprising 650 mother and child pairs. They determined the telomere length at birth using cells from cord blood. A ‘resilience index’ was used to determine positive attitude during stress.
This study shows that maternal psychological well-being during pregnancy is important in conditioning and programming the lifelong health and disease in infants. This suggests the need for improved access to psychological support during pregnancy.
In the future, researchers are planning to conduct an interventional study on stress reduction in the day-to-day lives of pregnant women.