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Evidence for sex differences in fetal programming of physiological stress reactivity in infancy

Tibu, F., Hill, J., Sharp, H., Marshall, K., Glover, V. and Pickles, A. (2014) Evidence for sex differences in fetal programming of physiological stress reactivity in infancy. Development and Psychopathology, 26 (4pt1). pp. 879-888. ISSN 1469-2198

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1017/S0954579414000194

Abstract/Summary

Associations between low birth weight and prenatal anxiety and later psychopathology may arise from programming effects likely to be adaptive under some, but not other, environmental exposures and modified by sex differences. If physiological reactivity, which also confers vulnerability or resilience in an environment-dependent manner, is associated with birth weight and prenatal anxiety, it will be a candidate to mediate the links with psychopathology. From a general population sample of 1,233 first-time mothers recruited at 20 weeks gestation, a sample of 316 stratified by adversity was assessed at 32 weeks and when their infants were aged 29 weeks (N = 271). Prenatal anxiety was assessed by self-report, birth weight from medical records, and vagal reactivity from respiratory sinus arrhythmia during four nonstressful and one stressful (still-face) procedure. Lower birth weight for gestational age predicted higher vagal reactivity only in girls (interaction term, p = .016), and prenatal maternal anxiety predicted lower vagal reactivity only in boys (interaction term, p = .014). These findings are consistent with sex differences in fetal programming, whereby prenatal risks are associated with increased stress reactivity in females but decreased reactivity in males, with distinctive advantages and penalties for each sex.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Psychopathology and Affective Neuroscience
ID Code:41794
Publisher:Cambridge University Press

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