Physiological Stress Reactivity in Late Pregnancy
Sammanfattning: During pregnancy, the basal activity is increased in both of our major stress response systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. At the same time, the reactivity towards stressors is reduced. These alterations sustain maternal and fetal homeostasis, and are involved in the regulation of gestational length. Although the feto-placental hormone synthesis produces the main endocrinological changes, also the central nervous system undergoes adaptation. Together, these profound adjustments have been suggested to make women’s mental health more vulnerable during pregnancy and postpartum period. The aim of this thesis was to examine factors connected to physiological stress responses during the late pregnancy in relation to pain, labour onset, emotional reactivity, and mental health.The first study examined the pain and sympathetic response during cold stress, in relation to time to delivery. Women with fewer days to spontaneous delivery had lower sympathetic reactivity, while no pain measure was associated with time to delivery.In the second study, acoustic startle response modulation was employed to study emotional reactivity during late gestation, and at four to six weeks postpartum. The startle response was measured by eye-blink electromyography, while the participants watched pleasant and unpleasant pictures, and positive and negative anticipation stimuli. A significant reduction in startle modulation by anticipation was found during the postpartum assessment. However, no startle modulation by pleasant, or unpleasant, pictures was detected at either time-point.The serum level of allopregnanolone, a neurosteroid implied in pregnancy-induced hyporeactivity, was analysed in relation to self-reported symptoms of anxiety and depression. Although the participants reported low levels of depression, the women with the highest depression scores had significantly lower levels of serum allopregnanolone. There was no correlation between allopregnanolone and anxiety scores.In the fourth study, the cortisol awakening response was compared between women with depression during pregnancy, women with depression prior to pregnancy, and women who had never suffered from depression. No group differences in cortisol awakening response during late pregnancy were found.The results are in line with the previously described pregnancy-induced hyporesponsiveness, and add to the knowledge on maternal stress hyporeactivity, gestational length, and maternal mental health.
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