Harmful environments could have negative effects on babies' brains

Harmful environments could have negative effects on babies’ brains


Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis revealed that factors such as poverty or crime can affect the structure and function of the brain of babies. The study, published in JAMA Network Open, reported that this situation can occur even when mothers are still pregnant and the babies’ brains are still developing.

To find the results, the scientists performed MRI scans on 399 babies within days of their birth; a part of them came from families affected by delinquency or poverty. According to the findings, newborns whose family members suffer from social disadvantages had smaller volumes throughout the brain.

In addition, the MRIs also showed evidence of less folding of the brain, a key trait signifying brain immaturity. Other results showed weaker connections between brain structures whose function is to process emotions and help regulate them.

In contrast, babies from families with higher incomes and no social disadvantage had normal brain growth. According to the researchers, one of the reasons why the brain development of newborns is not completely healthy is due to maternal stress.

“Our study amply demonstrated that a mother’s experience during her pregnancy can have a major impact on her baby’s brain development,” said Christopher Smyser, co-senior author of the study. Added to this, postdoctoral pediatrician Regina Triplett argued that social disadvantage affected the brain in many of its structures, but there were no significant effects with psychosocial stress.

However, the concern was focused on the extent to which babies begin to live with smaller brain structures. “Their brains may not develop in a healthy way compared to other babies whose mothers live in higher-income households,” she pointed out.

Both specialists agree that reducing poverty and crime rates are well-established goals in public and public health policies. Likewise, it is important to them to protect pregnant women who are victims of crime and help them lift themselves out of poverty in order to improve the development of their babies.

So far, scientists at the University of Washington are working to understand how brain regions develop and form early functional networks. This would be an aspect that can have an impact on the development and behavior of babies in later stages.