The use of statins may shield unborn babies from their mother's stress, reducing their risk of health problems in later life, scientists have said.
Statins are normally prescribed to lower high cholesterol but it is believed they could help protect the hearts of babies in the womb.
Research by Edinburgh University found the drugs helped counteract the negative impact of stress hormones on fetal growth and heart development in mice.
The impact of stress on babies - and why statins could help
An enzyme produced by the placenta normally protects babies against stress by breaking down stress hormones, limiting the amount of active hormones that reach the baby's blood supply
Stressed expectant mothers produce less of this enzyme, meaning the baby is less well protected as stress hormones stop the placenta from developing normal blood vessels
This cuts back the blood supply to the growing fetus and affects its heart function
The study - on mice that cannot produce the enzyme - found that statins trigger the production of a molecule which stimulates the development of blood vessels in the placenta
This helps normal development of the heart and helps the baby to grow to a healthy birth weight
The drugs are already given to pregnant women but researchers say further studies are needed to establish the long-term effects of statins.