Left-handed foetuses display effects of maternal stress

3 June 2014

Growing foetuses are more likely to show left-handed movements while still in the womb if their mothers are stressed, suggests a new study from Durham University.

The researchers believe their findings indicate that maternal stress could have a temporary effect on unborn babies, which emphasises the importance of reducing tension and strain during pregnancy.

However, they also noted their study does not provide evidence that consequential left-handedness was fixed in infants after birth. Some may be genetically predisposed to being left-handed and others are ambidextrous.

By using 4D ultrasound scans, the research team observed 15 healthy foetuses, recording 342 facial touches. They also asked mothers how much stress they were experiencing.

The findings suggested the more stress reported, the more frequently foetuses touched their faces with their left hands. 

Dr Nadja Reissland, lead author of the study, said:  "Our research suggests that stressed mothers have fetuses who touch their face relatively more with their left hand.

"This suggests maternal stress could be having an effect on the child's behaviour in the womb and highlights the importance of reducing maternal stress in pregnancy.”

She added that measures like increasing the emphasis on stopping stressful work early and the inclusion of relaxation classes in prenatal care could be taken to reduce the strain the mother experiences. 

Posted by Philip Briggs

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