Does Borderline Personality Develop in the Womb?

Research on borderline personality (BPD) has explored various avenues in search of risk factors. But according to a recent study, some of the biggest risk factors for BPD may develop in the womb. Cornelia E. Schwarze of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University Medical Center Mainz in Germany led the study that looked at the prenatal conditions of 100 individuals with BPD and compared them to 100 participants with no history of BPD.

Schwarze interviewed the mothers of the participants and reviewed prenatal and medical records. She looked at factors such as prenatal smoking, stress, family conflict, and medical problems. Schwarze also assessed environmental risk factors for the participants by evaluating levels of childhood adversity including maltreatment, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or other traumatic events.

The results revealed that the mothers of the BPD participants were more likely to have smoked during pregnancy when compared to the mothers of the 100 non-BPD control subjects. Additionally, the mothers of the participants with BPD also had higher rates of prenatal medical problems, stress, and conflict. Other risk factors that increased the likelihood of BPD were childhood sexual abuse and other childhood trauma. However, prenatal smoking and prenatal medical problems and stress had the strongest associations with BPD.

Exposure to prenatal smoke has been linked to impulsivity, identity issues, affective problems, and some borderline personality symptoms. The results of this study support existing research in this area. Schwarze also noted that medical problems that occur during pregnancy can have a significant impact on neurological development and specifically, on regions of the brain that affect emotional regulation. Although this should be explored further in future research, the strong link between prenatal medical problems and later BPD in children supports this as well.

Finally, prenatal stress, resulting from maternal stress during pregnancy, can be caused by a number of factors, including relationship problems, psychological issues, occupational conditions, or socioeconomic conditions, just to name a few. Each of these may also have a unique impact on the development of BPD or increased risk for BPD in unborn children. Schwarze added, “Future prospective longitudinal studies are essential to verify the impact of the observed potential prenatal risk factors.”

Schwarze, C. E., et al. (2013). Prenatal adversity: a risk factor in borderline personality disorder? Psychological Medicine 43.6 (2013): 1279-91. ProQuest. Web.

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  • Anne

    August 29th, 2013 at 3:46 AM

    As a result then do you think that we could make the assumption that all personality traits could then form while in utero and not just borderline personality traits? It is certainly something worth pondering. If the bad traist form, then why not the good too?

  • brannon

    August 29th, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    It is a known fact that much of who and what we become is determined by our mother’s actions while she is pregnant with us. We should also give consideration to the things going on around her environmentally as well while she is pregnant. are others in the home smoking and drinking and is she being exposed to that? Is she being abused or receiving proper nutrition? These are also issues that are very important to us as well.

  • Mark

    September 2nd, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof (and others, but he’s most outstanding) has been researching and writing in great depth about pregnancy and birth related traumas and its effects on psychopathology for decades now. His books are outstanding in describing this etiology.

    Its interesting to see that recent research has been confirming his findings.

  • kim

    May 18th, 2018 at 1:51 PM

    Can BPD be caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy?
    Have any studies been done using this issue?

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