Stress during pregnancy has been found to have an effect on rats and their descendents for several generations.
Rats generally have very little variation between pregnancies, making them good candidates for the study, as there was a lower chance of anything affecting the results.
One generation of rats were subjected to stress late in their pregnancy, and the following generation was split into two groups, one of which was stressed, and one of which was not.
These were bred, and the following generation was again split into groups of stressed and not stressed.
The daughters of stressed mothers and grandmothers were found to have shorter pregnancies, causing a higher risk of preterm birth, as well as higher blood glucose levels and a lower weight.
This implies how widespread the effects of stress are, reaching down through the generations, at least in rats.
Senior author of the article, Gerlinde Metz, said: “We show that stress across generations becomes powerful enough to shorten pregnancy length in rats and induce hallmark features of human preterm birth.”
It was surprising that the effects of stress were seen in so many generations, not just in the daughters, but also in the granddaughters of stressed test subjects.
Of course, rats are not humans and it is unknown whether this effect can be seen in people, but the findings have worrying implications for our stressed out society and highlights how important mindfulness and stress management techniques are.