Maternal Emotions and Their Impact on the Twin Fetus

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The impact of maternal emotions on the fetus is a "hot" topic amongst psychologists and psychoanalysts, who concentrate especially on "negative" emotions such as anxiety and stress. The research on the impact of maternal emotions on the fetus is fraught with enormous and, for the moment, probably insoluble methodological problems. To mention but a few: our knowledge of the physical substrata of emotions is still primitive, our understanding of placental crossing is also limited, and our comprehension of the mechanisms regulating fetal behavior is virtually nil. Yet, twins have been thought of as a possible "ideal model" to evaluate the impact of maternal emotions on the fetus [46]. According to this model, since both twins are equally and systematically affected by the same maternal emotion or by the same byproduct of an emotion, this proves per se that behavioral alterations are caused by the emotion. The underlying assumption is that twins live in and share exactly the same intrauterine environment. Even assuming that maternal "stressors," of whatever origin and kind, can reach the fetus, twins fetuses would only receive the same quality, but never the same quantity, of such substances.

Pregnancy-induced hypertension is a frequent complication in twin pregnancies [48]. However, this condition is not proven to have any causal relation to maternal anxiety. The opposite may well be true. Furthermore, pregnancy-induced hypertension does not impinge on both twins in the same way. Twin fetuses have different umbilical cords, an unequal distribution of placental mass; they float in different amounts of amniotic fluid and have differing blood flows. Their environment, including potential maternal "stressors," can hardly be regarded as "equal."

Uterine contractility is particularly elevated in twin gestations [48]. Uterine contractions have been also postulated to be the result of maternal anxiety and stress. According to this hypothesis, uterine contractions, by applying pressure to the amniotic sac, would produce increased tension in the amniotic fluid. This pressure would be perceived as disruptive by the fetus, which would then start to move more. However, even assuming that this "increased pressure" hypothesis were true, the vast majority of twins are contained in separate amniotic sacs; also, the amniotic fluid is unequally distributed between the two. Additionally, pressure on sacs which are different from each other may well act differently on each twin. Basically, lively fetal motions are confounded once more with anxiety-driven hyperactive states after birth [3].

Twin gestations, due to the various complications and many discomforts associated with them, are anxiety-provoking pregnancies. Already overanxious prospective mothers of twins should be spared the additional burden of having to try and suppress their emotions, which may often be uncontrollable anyway and whose harmfulness is in doubt.

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