WOMEN are twice as likely to give birth to a girl if they experienced more stress around the time of conception, a Spanish study has found.

Researchers at the University of Granada analysed levels of stress in 108 women from the first weeks of pregnancy to delivery. 

Stress levels were recorded by  analysed the levels of cortisol (a steroid hormone that is released in response to stress) in the hair of pregnant women in the period spanning from before conception to week 9 of pregnancy, to determine whether there was any link with the sex of the baby.

The findings confirm that foetuses are vulnerable to the effects of maternal stress and that such can play a key role in their development.

“The results we found were surprising,’ said paper author and psychologist María Isabel Peralta-Ramírez of the University of Granada.

“They showed that the women who had given birth to girls presented higher concentrations of hair cortisol in the weeks before, during, and after the point of conception than those who had boys.

“Our research group has shown in numerous publications how psychological stress in the mother generates a greater number of psychopathological symptoms during pregnancy,’ said Professor Peralta-Ramírez.

Stress, she added, can also trigger ‘postpartum depression, a greater likelihood of assisted delivery, an increase in the time taken for lactation to commence, or inferior neurodevelopment of the baby six months after birth.’

This study, the team explained, is one of few that has shown the impact of stress felt during and even before conception — rather than than just the psychological stress experienced during pregnancy. 

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