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14th May 2002: "The environment begins in the womb"

There is increasing evidence for fetal programming in man, that is that later behaviour and susceptibility to disease may be affected by what happens in utero. The final phenotype depends on the interaction of genes and the environment and it is increasingly apparent that the environment start in utero. One aspect of this concerns sexual behaviour.

Animal models have shown that if the mother is stressed during pregnancy that this affects the sexual behaviour of the offspring; males become less masculine and females less maternal in behaviour. We have found, in humans, that if the mother is anxious in pregnancy that this increases the risk of behvioural problems in the child, especially hyperactivity/attention deficit in boys. Children of mothers anxious in pregnancy are also more likely to be mixed handed. We are starting to understand possible mechanisms by which maternal mood in pregnancy may affect the development of the fetus.

Vivette Glover studied biochemistry at Oxford and obtained her PhD from London University. She then worked in biological psychiatry at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital. More recently she has applied this expertise to the problems of mothers and babies and is currently Professor of Perinatal Psychobiology,Imperial College, London. She runs the "Fetal and Neonatal Stress Research Group" at the Institute of Development and Reproductive Biology, Recent projects include a study showing that maternal antenatal anxiety doubles the risk for hyperactivity in boys; studies showing possible mechanisms by which maternal anxiety may affect the development of the fetus; a study showing that babies born by different methods (elective caesarean, normal vaginal, assisted ) have different stress and crying responses at 8 weeks; and the first trial of analgesia in the fetus. She has published over 350 papers.

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