Can A Mother’s Trauma Affect Her Son?

Trauma is generational, genetic, and experiential. A male child growing in the womb of a mother who has experienced trauma is likely to experience trauma in some way himself. Though some kind of a traumatic event may not be happening to him directly, he will be affected by the trauma which has affected his mother. Trauma lives in the cells, in the chemical makeup, and in the very energy which circulates through a mother’s body. Connected by the umbilical chord, the mother and son share the effects of trauma, be it through nervousness, reactivity, maladaptive behavioral patterns on behalf of the mother, or other means. Children of parents who lived with a mental health condition are four to five times more likely to develop some kind of mental health condition of their own. Interestingly, new research finds, the effects of trauma on an unborn child may become physical rather than psychological, behavioral, or otherwise genetic. The Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that women who had gone through the unfortunate experience of trauma in their lifetimes gave birth to sons who were smaller than their newly born male counterparts.

A common denominator among the mothers who had experienced higher levels of trauma in their lives was cortisol secretion. Cortisol, a stress hormone, is released into the body as part of the stress response or “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Stress hormones are meant to create the ability to take action. When action is not taken, i.e. the “freeze” part of the response, cortisol and other stress hormones remain in the body, causing toxic reactions physiologically. In later pregnancy, these mothers were found to have secreted larger amounts of cortisol. Trauma can and often does affect individuals for a lifetime. Any kind of trigger, flashback, or trauma response might set off the production of cortisol in a high amount. When the brain and/or body are reminded of trauma, the stress response takes place immediately, even though a traumatic situation may not be occurring in real time. Coincidentally, male birth weights among mothers with higher late pregnancy cortisol secretion was lower. According to Science Daily, these babies saw “an average decrease of 38 grams, or approximately 1.3 ounces”.

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