Garon-Carrier G. (2014). Prenatal stress and human development: an adaptive response to an adverse environment or a teratogenicity effect on child’s development?. Devenir. 26: 291-305.
Stress is often considered one of the risk factors for several physical and mental disorders. During the gestational period, stress influences the development of the child in various ways: through the transmission of the maternal stress hormones to the fetus, the reduction of the uteroplacental blood flow, or through the mother changing her lifestyle habits during pregnancy. Human studies show the negative effects of prenatal stress on the development of children’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), with effects on cognitive, physical, and social development. But is prenatal stress always harmful for human development? According to the fetal programming hypothesis, prenatal stress is adaptive and benefits the survival skills of the infant if it finds itself in a hostile and stressful postnatal situation. In the diathesis-stress model, prenatal stress establishes individual “vulnerability” within their make-up, but negative outcomes will only appear if the child is faced with some traumatic environmental stressors. Finally, according to the differential susceptibility to environmental influences hypothesis, negative outcomes of prenatal stress rely on individual developmental plasticity.