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Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology

Open Access

Does perceived stress in pregnant immigrant women predispose their infants to allergic disease development? - a work-in-progress

Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology20106(Suppl 3):P35

Published: 26 November 2010


Depressive SymptomSocial SupportAnxiety DisorderAllergic DiseaseImmigrant Woman


"Canada's Immigration Program" [1] reports that Canada has the highest per capita immigration rate in the world. Given the finding that pregnant immigrant women display higher prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders [2], the investigation of health outcomes in this population is warranted. The present study will examine whether prenatal perceived stress and/or physiologic maternal stress responses are associated with the development of allergies in infants, in a diverse group of immigrant women.


Sixty immigrant women will be recruited early in pregnancy and followed up to 1 year postpartum. Three study visits (<24 weeks gestation, 32-36 gestation, and 1 year postpartum) and two brief phone calls (at 3- and 6-months postpartum) will be used to collect information about maternal health including perceived stress, depressive symptoms, social support, and biomarkers of stress reactivity (salivary cortisol). Information on infant birth outcomes and cord blood (for measurement of IgE) will be collected at the time of delivery. Infant atopy (assessed via skin-prick testing and clinical history) will be assessed at 1 year of age, along with information on the infant's health and stress response (salivary cortisol).


To date, forty-eight women have been recruited into the study. Preliminary data illustrate a wide range of depressive symptoms, perceived stress, and social support. Ten women reported high levels of depressive symptoms (>11 on the EPDS) or high levels of perceived stress (>19 on the PSS-10), and an additional four women reported both during early- to mid-pregnanct. Thus, stress and depressive symptoms appear to be distinct phenomena in this population. Women who experienced a very large number of negative life events in the previous 6 months or reported low levels of perceived social support tended to endorse either high levels of stress or depression in early pregnancy. Participant recruitment and testing are on-going.


A large portion of our (diverse) sample of immigrant women reported high levels of perceived stress and/or depressive symptoms during early- to mid-pregnancy. Whether these adverse perinatal mental states (and their associated dysregulated stress responses) contribute to the development of allergic disease in infants is under active, prospective investigation. A better understanding of the effects of perinatal factors on susceptibility to allergic disease in the infant can lead to development of interventions when plasticity in physiologic development is still relatively abundant [3].

Authors’ Affiliations

Institute of Medical Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
Women's Health Concerns Clinic, St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, Hamilton, Canada
Brain-Body Institute, St. Joseph's HealthCare Hamilton, Hamilton, Canada
Psychiatry & Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
Department of Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada


  1. Canada's Immigration Program (October 2004) - Library of Parliament. accessed 17 September 2007, []
  2. Stewart DE, Gagnon A, Saucier J-F, Wahoush O, Dougherty G: Postpartum depression symptoms in newcomers. Can J Psychiatry. 2008, 53 (2): 121-124.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Shanks N, Lightman SL: The maternal-neonatal neuro-immune interface: Are there long-term implications for inflammatory or stress-related disease?. J Clin Invest. 2001, 108: 1567-1573.PubMed CentralPubMedView ArticleGoogle Scholar


© Peer et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2010

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd.