Stress in Infancy
October 7, 2016
To Respond or Not: “Spoiling” Myths
October 7, 2016

Result of Infant Stress

Without regular closeness to a caregiver, an infant not only suffers from elevated stress hormones, but also receives less benefit from oxytocin surges and other positive biochemical influences. The biochemical environment imposed on an infant’s brain during critical development stages affects the anatomy and functioning of the brain permanently. A poor biochemical environment results in less desirable emotional, behavioral, and intellectual abilities for the rest of a child’s life.

As previously described, a brain developed in a stressful environment overreacts to stressful events and controls stress hormones poorly throughout life. The constant irregular cortisol levels eventually lead to inflammatory changes that are typically related to inadequate cortisol. This brings on a high risk of heart disease, stroke, and adult-onset diabetes.’ Interestingly, one psychiatrist found that the poor health consequences for adults who received restricted mothering during childhood?high blood pressure and high cortisol responses?closely resemble those in adults who lost a parent as a child. The effects, however, go way beyond one’s blood pressure and ability to deal with stress.

Chronically elevated cortisol in infants and the hormonal and functional adjustments that go along with it are shown to be associated with permanent brain changes that lead to elevated responses to stress throughout life, such as higher blood pressure and heart rate. Studies have shown that infants who receive frequent physical affection have lower overall cortisol levels.


The hippocampus, a structure important in learning and memory, is one brain site where development is affected by stress and bonding hormone?levels. The level of the stress hormones circulating in an infant affects the number and types of receptors here. It has also been demonstrated that nerve cells in the hippocampus are destroyed as a result of chronic stress and elevated stress hormone levels, producing intellectual deficits as a consequence. Memory and spatial learning deficits have been demonstrated in rats that suffered prolonged stress in infancy. Similarly, children with the lowest scores on mental and motor ability tests have been shown to be the ones with the highest cortisol levels in their blood.

Premature development of puberty has also been associated with significantly higher levels of cortisol and other stress indicators. This study additionally reports that these children have more depression, more behavior problems, and lower intelligence scores. Here again, the laboratory studies fully confirm psychological attachment studies. Furthermore, premature puberty increases one’s risk of developing cancer.

In individuals who suffer from various psychological disorders, irregular production of cortisol is a very consistent finding. Oversecretion of stress hormones has also recently been implicated in obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, accelerated aging symptoms, and suicidal behavior. Animal studies have demonstrated decreased immune system functioning in infants subjected to the stresses of prolonged separation from mother, which coincides with the increased incidence of illness shown in less-attached children.

Text copyright ? THE BABY BOND by Dr. Linda Folden Palmer

Call Now Button