Moving beyond the Longitudinal Approach to Understand Prenatal Mechanisms

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Abstract

Accumulating evidence shows that the prenatal period lays an important fundament under the future prospective of a child. The studies presented in the article “How the First Nine Months Shape the Rest of Our Lives” fit well into this field of research, in which the scope of the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) researchers has broadened their interest towards mental health. Other lines of research preceded or paralleled this interest in the child's prenatal programming, as evidenced by numerous published review papers. Nonetheless, we still lack knowledge on the potential underlying mechanisms that link either general prenatal adverse environmental factors or more specific exposures to a hampered child development. To further this field of research, we suggest that studies should go beyond the longitudinal and epidemiological approach, and include intervention studies to test for causality of prenatal risk factors. Several promising interventions targeting prenatal maternal stress are currently studied to examine their effectiveness in reducing maternal stress and thereby reducing risk for the foetus and the child. Finally, we need to realise that the postnatal environment may be able to compensate for less-than-optimal prenatal circumstances. In that perspective, prenatal factors may be less programming than several authors suggest.

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