Based on to examine presented at the 25th European Congress of Endocrinology in Istanbul, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol during the third trimester of pregnancy may increase speech and language abilities in the first three years of a child's life. The results contribute to our understanding of how cortisol affects foetal and infant development.
Early language development is a good indicator of how well the neural system of a newborn evolved in the womb. A fetus's growth is controlled and its brain development is impacted by prenatal exposure to cortisol, a steroid hormone that aids the body in responding to stress. However, it is still unclear how cortisol affects the early development of language.
Researchers from the Odense University Hospital examined data from the Odense Child Cohort on 1,093 Danish toddlers aged 12-37 months and on the cortisol levels of 1,093 Danish mothers during their third trimester of pregnancy. They discovered that whereas females were better at comprehending more words at the age of 12 to 21 months, boys exposed to high cortisol levels in the womb could pronounce more words from ages 12-37 months.
"To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate the association between maternal cortisol levels and language development in children over time, also taking offspring sex and maternal educational level into account," said Dr Anja Fenger Dreyer, who was involved in the study.
She added: "We have had access to a large study cohort, high-quality methods of analysis and relevant covariates, making our study an important contribution to the physiological understanding of prenatal cortisol exposure in fetal maturation and child development."
The team will next assess whether children exposed to high cortisol in the womb are more likely to have higher intelligence quotient (IQ) scores. Except for the data on maternal cortisol levels and early language development, the Odense Child Cohort also has data on intelligence tests carried out by children aged 7.
"Early language development in children is known as a predictor for a cognitive function later in life, such as attention, memory and learning, so we want to investigate whether prenatal cortisol exposure is also associated with IQ scores of children aged 7 years old," said Dr Fenger Dreyer. (ANI)