Research has shown that children whose mothers were highly stressed during pregnancy are more likely to suffer physical ailments that could lead to premature death. Some studies have even suggested that stress during pregnancy can cause a child to be at increased risk for illnesses such as asthma. Others have indicated links between behavioral problems, emotional problems, and maternal stress during pregnancy. In an effort to better understand the nature of this relationship, Marion Tegethoff of the Division of Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Basel in Switzerland led a study that looked specifically at how pregnancy stress influenced the later development of various diseases in children.
Tegethoff used data from more than 60,000 Danish mothers registered with the Danish National Birth Cohort. She measured the levels of maternal stress based on emotional stress and life stress and compared them to the later development of 16 specific childhood diseases. Tegethoff found that the maternal life stress did indeed increase the risk for several diseases, including parasitic and infectious illnesses, as well as both behavioral and psychological issues during the first two-and-a-half years of life. Additionally, the results revealed that the children born to stressed mothers were also at a higher risk of contracting ear, skin, eye, respiratory, digestive, and musculoskeletal diseases, among others.
In line with other studies, the results also showed a link between maternal stress and birth defects. Tegethoff did find that emotional stress was only related to infectious diseases, whereas life stress was linked to all types of illnesses. The findings provide evidence of the clear link between maternal stress and the risk for illness in their unborn children. Tegethoff believes the clinical implications of these findings are significant. She suggests that investing in reducing stress during pregnancy may help improve the health of children. She added, “Our findings encourage consideration of preventive strategies for infants of mothers who were highly stressed during pregnancy.”
Tegethoff, M., Greene, N., Olsen, J., Schaffner, E., Meinlschmidt, G. Stress During Pregnancy and Offspring Pediatric Disease: A National Cohort Study. Environmental Health Perspectives 119.11 (2011): 1647-652. Print.
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