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Season of Birth

When we celebrate Christmas, we remember that Jesus was (supposedly) born in the winter, but this is not the best time to emerge from the womb. The season in which babies are born can have a dramatic and persistent effect on how their biological clocks function. The imprinting effect, which was found in baby mice, may help explain the fact that people born in winter months have a higher risk of a number of neurological disorders including seasonal affective disorder (winter depression), bipolar depression and schizophrenia.

Biologist Douglas McMahon says, "Our biological clocks measure the day length and change our behavior according to the seasons. We were curious to see if light signals could shape the development of the biological clock." In his experiment, groups of mouse pups were raised from birth to weaning in artificial winter or summer light cycles. After they were weaned, they were maintained in either the same cycle or the opposite cycle for 28 days. Once they were mature, the mice were placed in constant darkness and their activity patterns were observed. The winter-born mice showed a consistent slowing of their daily activity period, regardless of whether they had been maintained on a winter light cycle, or had been shifted to summer cycle after weaning.

Interestingly enough, the trend for June weddings means that most babies will be born in the spring, when this danger is past.

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