The early fetal environment has widespread consequences for later health. Many studies have shown that maternal stress during pregnancy can have lasting effects on offspring neurodevelopment. However, the predominant focus on the prenatal period has likely hindered understanding of the developmental origins of these disruptions that are critical for informing prevention efforts. Given growing evidence that the preconception period is an important window of vulnerability for later health, longitudinal research is needed to examine the impact of stress exposure across the life course on later pregnancy health and health and development in the next generation.
In 2016, we began a large-scale sub-study of the Pittsburgh Girls Study (PGS) to understand how the environment influences, including different domains of stressors during childhood and adolescence, affect later maternal pregnancy and child health, development and well-being. The study is part of the Environmental Influences of Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program that examines the positive and negative impact of a broad range of prenatal environmental exposures across multiple levels from biology to societal, physical and chemical across 150 collection sites nationwide.
Any participants from the PGS, who become pregnant or recently had a baby, are welcome to participate in PGS-ECHO. Our goal is to recruit about 800 women and children from the PGS before the study ends in late 2023. Participants will be asked to come to the lab for research visits during pregnancy and when their child is between 6-36 months or aged 5-8 years. Participants complete interviews about current health, stress exposures and coping and infant behavior and development, and also complete filmed interaction tasks, child play and computer tasks. Visit protocols also include the collection of saliva, blood and urine samples.
The PGS-ECHO study is funded by the National Institute of Health Office of the Director (OD023244).