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Babies Born to Stressed Mothers More Likely to be Bullied

New research shows that stress and mental health problems in pregnant women may affect the developing baby, directly increasing the risk of the child being bullied later in life.

“When we are exposed to stress, large quantities of neuro-hormones are released into the blood stream. In a pregnant woman this can change the developing fetus’ own stress response system,” said Dieter Wolke, professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Warwick, who led the study.

“Changes in the stress response system can affect behavior and how children react emotionally to stress, such as being picked on by a bully. Children who more easily show a stress reaction, such as crying, running away, anxiety, are then selected by bullies to home in to.”

“The whole thing becomes a vicious cycle,” he continued. “A child with an altered stress response system is more likely to be bullied, which affects their stress response even further and increases the likelihood of them developing mental health problems in later life.”

The study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, was based on 8,829 children from the Avon Longtitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a long-term health research project also known as Children of the 90s.

More than 14,000 mothers enrolled while pregnant in 1991 and 1992. Since enrollment, the health and development of the children and parents has been followed in detail. The researchers gather data on environmental as well as genetic and psychological factors throughout this project.

For this latest study, the research team identified the main prenatal stress factors as severe family problems, such as financial difficulty or alcohol and drug abuse, and maternal mental health.

Source: University of Warwick

Babies Born to Stressed Mothers More Likely to be Bullied

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Babies Born to Stressed Mothers More Likely to be Bullied. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 18, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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