This article, written by David Ogul, originally appeared on the Los Angeles Times website.
A Chapman expert discusses research into the physical and psychological effects of pregnancy and fetal development.
Dr. Laura Glynn
, who has written extensively on various issues relating to pregnancy and fetal child development, heads
Chapman University’s Early Human and Lifespan Development Research Program
. The program has several areas of focus, including understanding the causes behind the high premature birth rate in the U.S. and the effects of pre- and post-natal hormones on a mother’s psychological health.
Among Glynn’s recent findings is that pregnant women who show higher levels of a stress-sensitive placental hormone (placental corticotrophin-releasing hormone) are at increased risk of developing postpartum depression. Other research suggests that a pregnant woman’s hormones may be preparing her for the demands of motherhood.
We recently asked Glynn to answer a few questions about her work and discoveries.
What is the most important thing that a pregnant woman needs to be aware of yet most often neglects?
Pregnancy is a time of enormous physiological change that has implications for maternal cognitive and emotional function and as such should be viewed as a critical or sensitive developmental period in the lifespan of the mother, not only the fetus. These changes play a central role in successful gestation and delivery, in optimal fetal development and in the onset of sensitive maternal behaviors. My advice to pregnant women is to embrace and celebrate these remarkable changes.
You’ve done extensive research into how pregnancy affects a woman’s brain. What are some of your most significant findings?
My research in this area addresses four main emphases. My earliest work focused on how emotional or stress responding changes during the prenatal period. This work shows that as pregnancy progresses women become less responsive to stress and that those women who do not show this expected decline in responding are at increased risk of preterm delivery. In a second line of research, I have shown that certain aspects of memory function decline during pregnancy and that these changes persist into the postpartum period. Third, I have shown that the hormone exposures of pregnancy can be linked to the quality of maternal behavior. Last, I have been interested in endocrine (hormonal) predictors of postpartum depression.
What led you to devote your career to research in this area?
My graduate training was as in experimental psychology with an emphasis on health, but had nothing to do with pregnancy or women’s health issues. As a post doc, I began work in the area of maternal-child health with an emphasis on the perinatal period. As soon as I began to learn about the dramatic and dynamic physiological changes that occur during pregnancy, I was hooked. Since then, I have been focusing on the implications of the prenatal period for the mother, fetus, infant and child.