Does Stress in NICU Cause Reduction in Infant Brain Size?

Infant Brain Structure Affected by Stressors

Exposure to stressors in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) was found to be associated with alterations in the brain structure and function of preterm infants in a recent study.

Now available in Annals of Neurology, the study showed that babies born well before their term was up and who experienced stress in the NICU had decreased brain size, abnormal motor behavior and lower functional connectivity.

Babies who are born before the 37th week of gestation are commonly admitted to the NICU for specialized care after birth to allow their organs to fully develop before they are sent home. Previous research has shown that as many as 10 percent of very preterm infants – those born between 22 and 32 weeks gestation – have cerebral palsy, nearly 40 percent have mild motor deficiency and up to 60 percent have cognitive impairment, social difficulties and emotional issues.

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