Research issues covered include stress/anxiety, depression, birth, attachment, sleep, breastfeeding, nutrition and gut microbiome.

Research issues

A baby’s brain grows by over 80% in the first 1000 days and many issues effect how your baby’s brain grows. Research over the last decade shows that many factors effect how well your baby develops- these are some of the issues that can contribute to this. Research findings are published every week and many findings need to be confirmed before any guidance is issued on making relevant changes. So don’t let any single finding worry you. But we hope you find the background research studies, and these ongoing relevant news updates from the media- see below – of interest (scroll horizontally to access more news stories).

Find out more on why these issues are important

Stories from the media

Babies grasp grammar – starting in the third trimester

Babies’ understanding of language develops so quickly that they already have a basic understanding of grammar long before they utter their first words, a study has found.

The findings suggest that reading and talking to children in the first months of their life – and even towards the end of pregnancy – could be helping to develop language skills even if they cannot talk back and don’t understand the meaning of the words.

Researchers have found that infants have already mastered the fundamental structures of their mother tongue by the age of eight months.

“The important thing to remember is that language acquisition does not begin when the baby starts to produce words, but a long time before – even during the last trimester of the pregnancy,” said Caterina Marino, of the University of Paris.”So the first months and years of life are crucial in this sense. Talking and reading to the baby are beneficial because infants need the linguistic input to fully develop the language, and so: the more, the better,” she said.

The I newspaper

70% of new and expectant mums experiencing mental health issues

A huge 70% of new and expectant mums experience some sort of mental health problem during or after pregnancy, according to a new study. The research, conducted by The Baby Show, revealed that UK mums are at breaking point and have insufficient support in coping with the changes that come with having a new baby. The most common mental illness experienced by new mums was anxiety – suffered by more than a third (36%), the ‘baby blues’ (18%) and post-natal depression (12%). Of the 1,000 new and expectant mums asked, 89% think the government needs to invest more money into helping new parents with their mental health and nearly a quarter (23%) said they needed to do it as a matter of urgency.



Effects of maternal stress on your baby

A newly published study, from Kings College London,  suggests that premature babies of women who had stressful pregnancies, had reduced development of the brain region that is thought to play a role in anxiety disorders in adults. The research involved 250 mothers who were given a score based on stressful events such as taking an exam, moving house or bereavement in the year before birth. The authors said “We are trying to emphasise that maternal mental health during pregnancy can affect the baby’s brain development which may have an impact in later life. No one is asking these women about stress, hence they don’t receive any support”

The Independent

Effects of Caesarean birth and breastfeeding on infant’s microbiome

Babies born by caesarean section have different gut bacteria to those delivered vaginally, the most comprehensive study to date on the baby microbiome has found. The study also suggested that antibiotics, which are normally given before a caesarean, play a role in shaping the baby microbiome. Breastfeeding also had an impact on gut bacteria, the study found, but played a more minor role.

The study showed that babies born vaginally pick up most of their initial dose of bacteria from their mother, while C-section babies have more bugs linked to hospital environments, including strains that demonstrate antimicrobial resistance. The findings could explain the higher prevalence of asthma, allergies and other immune conditions in babies born by caesarean.

“How your immune system functions through your life might be influenced by its first interactions with bacteria,” said Nigel Field, a senior author on the paper from University College London. “If there are differences in longer-term health outcomes by different patterns of [bacteria], that tells us something quite important about health.”

Full publication in Nature

Breastfeeding – study finds financial incentives effective

A UK study offering financial incentives (shopping vouchers) to mothers to continue breastfeeding has reported that it has been effective in extending breastfeeding.

The UK has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the world at 12 months.The low prevalence of breast feeding is estimated to cost high-income countries US$231 billion (0.5% of gross national income) annually. Breast milk contains antibodies that help babies to fight of viruses and bacterial infections and help lower the risk of asthma and allergies. It also contains hormones which regulates energy balance, and affects gut bacteria.

Research by Unicef has shown that if 45 per cent of British mothers breastfed for four months, and 75 per cent of babies were breastfed at discharge it would bring 3,285 fewer gastrointestinal infection-related hospital admissions. There would also be 5,916 fewer lower respiratory tract infection-related hospital admissions and 22,248 fewer GP consultations, 21,045 fewer acute otitis media and 361 fewer cases of Necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, is a serious disease that affects the intestines of premature babies.

“This is the first study to investigate whether providing financial incentives to breastfeed is cost effective… We’ve shown that financial incentive programmes such as this can not only increase rates of breastfeeding, but also provide good value for money” – said the research programme’s lead author.

British Medical Journal
British Medical Journal

Rachel Riley: Social media and stress to her baby

Rachel Riley, the Countdown presenter, has reported her experience of social media ‘trolling’ and how instead of responding to criticisms she has learnt to simply block and ignore negative social media posts. “My mental health is a lot better and my baby’s a lot happier” she said. The Centre for Countering Digital Hate recommends muting notifications and taking a break from social media – it cites research that suggests that hate speech is inadvertently spread via social media when insults and put downs are quoted and shared.

Polluted air found in placentas of pregnant mums

Scientists have shown for the first time that toxic air pollution particles of black carbon enter the placenta in pregnant women, endangering babies in the womb. Black carbon has been linked with low birth weights and premature births. The Belgium researcher who led the study said that these ‘particulates could be transported towards the foetus and represents a potential mechanism explaining the detrimental health effects of pollution from early life onwards.’ Other research has shown links between air pollution and bipolar disorder, severe depression and schizophrenia.

Stress during pregnancy affects future adult mental health

The children of women who experience severe stress when pregnant are nearly 10 times more likely to develop a personality disorder by the age of 30, a study suggests.

Even moderate prolonged stress may have an impact on child development and continue after a baby’s birth, it said. More than 3,600 pregnant women in Finland were asked about their stress levels, and their children followed up.

Psychiatrists say mums-to-be must have access to mental health support.

Other important factors, such as how children are brought up, the family’s financial situation and trauma experienced during childhood, are known to contribute to the development of personality disorders and could have played a role.

BBC online

Love really matters

We’re all familiar with the saying that there is ‘nothing stronger than a mother’s love’, and now it seems that scientists have proved this to be true – at least in terms of baby development. Findings from a baby brain-scanning project undertaken at Cambridge University, indicate that babies need to feel safe, secure and loved for brain connections to be properly formed, in turn enabling them to learn effectively.

As part of an ongoing piece of research, scientists are scanning the brains of babies and their mums as the two interact in learning activities. Early findings suggest that babies learn best when their brain waves are in sync with their parents’, as opposed to instances where they are at odds.

It was also discovered that a baby’s learning ability (most notably language development) is increased when mothers speak using a ‘sing-song’ voice – referred to by researchers as ‘motherese‘. As a result, those working on the study are now citing nursery rhymes as a particularly good way for mums to get in sync with their children.

Love matters

Microbiome important in depression

Probiotic treatments could be used for depression after researchers discovered links between mental health and microbes that live in the gut.

A large study published yesterday in the journal Nature Microbiology found that higher levels of two types of gut bacteria were consistently associated with better mental health. The research is at an early stage but the scientists believe that it could lead to the development of pills containing bacteria capable of guarding against mental illness.

The families of bacteria linked to better mental health — Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus — are known to produce compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. Low levels of Coprococcus and a third kind of bacteria, Dialister, were linked to poor mental health, including severe depression.

Times article