Less Prenatal Stress Reduces Child Behavioral Problems

New research suggests expectant mothers may want to consider stress management as a way to lower the risk of problematic behavior in their offspring.

Investigators from the University of Ottawa examined data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children and found that mothers who experience significant prenatal stress may be increasing their child’s risk for behavioral issues.

“Mothers who are exposed to high levels of stress during pregnancy have kids who are more than twice as likely to have chronic symptoms of hyperactivity and conduct disorder,” said Dr. Ian Colman, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine.

“Hyperactivity is a symptom of ADHD, and about 10 percent of school-age children are affected by ADHD or conduct disorder,” he said. “These disorders can lead to poor results in school and difficulties in their relationships with family and friends.”

Behavioral disorders such as those seen by the researchers are characterized by aggressive or antisocial behavior, high activity levels, and difficulty inhibiting behavior.

The conditions are also associated with school failure, substance use/abuse and criminal activity, according to the paper which appears in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

A mother’s stress can alter brain development in the fetus, and it is believed these changes may be long-lasting or permanent, said Colman.

The research approach was unique as investigators studied the effects of specific stressors on participants, as opposed to gauging overall stress levels.

Participants reported stressful events, such as problems at work, the illness of a relative, or an argument with a partner, family or friend.

“Generally speaking, we found that the higher the stress, the higher the symptoms,” Colman said.

“We can’t avoid most stressful events in our lives and since we can’t always prevent them, the focus should be on helping mothers manage stress in order to give their children the best start in life.”

Source: University of Ottawa