Maternal Stress during Pregnancy Is Associated with Decreased Cortisol and Cortisone Levels in Neonatal Hair

Bibian van der Voorn, Jonneke J. Hollanders, Noera Kieviet, Koert M. Dolman, Yolanda B. de Rijke, Elisabeth F. C. van Rossum, Joost Rotteveel, Adriaan Honig, Martijn J. J. Finken

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Background: Hair glucocorticoids (GCs) offer a retrospective view on chronic GC exposure. We assessed whether maternal pre- and postnatal stress was associated with neonatal and maternal hair GCs postpartum (pp). Methods: On the first day pp 172 mother-infant pairs donated hair, of whom 67 had consulted a centre of expertise for psychiatric disorders during pregnancy. Maternal stress was scored on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale during the first/second (n = 46), third trimester (n = 57), and pp (n = 172). Hair cortisol and cortisone levels were determined by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, and associations with maternal hospital anxiety subscale (HAS) and hospital depression subscale (HDS) scores, and antidepressant use were analyzed with linear regression. Results: Neonatal hair GCs were negatively associated with elevated HAS-scores during the first/second trimester, log 10 (β [95% CI]) cortisol -0.19 (-0.39 to 0.02) p = 0.07, cortisone -0.10 (-0.25 to 0.05) p = 0.17; third trimester, cortisol -0.17 (-0.33 to 0.00) p = 0.05, cortisone -0.17 (-0.28 to -0.05) p = 0.01; and pp, cortisol -0.14 (-0.25 to -0.02) p = 0.02, cortisone -0.07 (-0.16 to 0.02) p = 0.10. A similar pattern was observed for elevated HDS-scores. Maternal hair GCs were positively associated with elevated HAS-scores pp (cortisol 0.17 [0.01 to 0.32] p = 0.04, cortisone 0.18 [0.06 to 0.31] p = 0.01), but not prenatally or with elevated HDS-scores. Antidepressant use was associated with elevated maternal hair GCs (p ≤ 0.05), but not with neonatal hair GCs. Conclusion: Exposure to excessive pre- and perinatal maternal stress was associated with a decrease in neonatal hair GCs, while elevated stress-scores around birth were associated with increased maternal hair GCs and elevated stress-scores earlier in gestation were not associated with maternal hair GCs pp. Further studies are needed to test associations with infant neurodevelopment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-307
JournalHormone Research in Paediatrics
Issue number5
Early online date2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019

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