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As a fetus grows, it’s constantly getting messages from its mother. It’s not just hearing her heartbeat and whatever music she might play to her belly; it also gets chemical signals through the placenta. A new study, which will be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that this includes signals about the mother’s mental state. If the mother is depressed, that affects how the baby develops after it’s born.
In recent decades, researchers have found that the environment a fetus is growing up in — the mother’s womb — is very important. Some effects are obvious. Smoking and drinking, for example, can be devastating. But others are subtler; studies have found that people who were born during the Dutch famine of 1944, most of whom had starving mothers, were likely to have health problems like obesity and diabetes later.