Childhood Trauma Can Affect Timing of Motherhood
Women who experienced childhood trauma are more likely to become mothers at a younger age than those with a more stable childhood, according to a new Finnish study of girls who had been exposed to the trauma of war.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, support evolutionary theory which states that people living in an unstable environment with high mortality rates are better off reproducing sooner rather than taking the risk of not having the chance later.
Overall, the study shows that the severe trauma children experience from living in war zones, natural disasters or perhaps even epidemics can have unexpected effects that resurface later in their lives.
For the study, a research team from the University of Turku and the University of Helsinki analyzed extensive data collected on young female war volunteers to determine the effects of childhood trauma on adults.
Prior to and during World War II, thousands of Finnish girls and women volunteered to help in the war effort as part of the paramilitary organization known as the ‘Lotta Svärd.’
Tasks within the organization varied greatly, and many of the women performed duties that exposed them to the trauma of war. They served in hospitals, at air raid warning positions as well as in other supportive tasks in connection with the army. Toward the end of the war, girls as young as fourteen years of age were entrusted with some of the more demanding jobs usually reserved for adults.
The findings show that young girls and women who served in the war became mothers earlier and had more children compared to women of the same age who did not participate in the war effort.
Lead author Dr. Robert Lynch from the University of Turku said if trauma can be measured in basic things such as the timing of motherhood, then it almost certainly has major effects on many of our other important behaviors, such as overall aversion to risk, sociality or the pace of sexual development.
The study is groundbreaking because it overcomes many of the pitfalls of research on humans that has made it difficult to know whether trauma is actually the root cause of starting a family at a younger age.
Senior author Dr. John Loehr from the University of Helsinki said the large amount of data allowed the researchers to compare women before and after the war and also take family background into account by comparing sisters. The study offers strong evidence in support of the theory that trauma has an impact on reproductive timing.
While the study has significant implications for the millions of children and adults worldwide who experience trauma through wars, relevance may also extend to other sources of trauma, such as natural disasters or even the current COVID-19 epidemic.
There appears to be a sensitivity window that extends from childhood into early adulthood where behavior adjusts to match the circumstances experienced. The consequences can be far-reaching even after the situation stabilizes.
Source: University of Turku
Pedersen, T. (2020). Childhood Trauma Can Affect Timing of Motherhood. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/06/11/childhood-trauma-can-affect-timing-of-motherhood/157110.html