How Stress During Pregnancy Affects Child Development

Stress during a mother’s pregnancy leads to poor ability to coordinate body movements in her offspring. This effect doesn’t show until the child reaches its teen years which allow mothers to believe for years that everything is okay. A recent study conducted by the University of Notre Dame Australia reveals that children of women who were stressed during pregnancy are less likely to be good athletes. Here’s how the researcher came to this conclusion.

The study involved 2,900 Australian women who were asked questions about their emotional state or stress level during pregnancy. First, doctors asked the women about their stress at 18 weeks of pregnancy and then again at 24 weeks of pregnancy. The common stressful events were experiencing deaths in the family, financial problems, and separation or divorce. After obtaining this data, the researchers then examined the children of these women.

At the ages of 10, 14, and 17, the researchers tested the children of the formerly-stressed expectant mothers. To decide if the children had poor hand-eye coordination, the doctors tested their grip strength, how far they could jump, if they were able to turn a nut on a bolt, and how well they could stand on one foot, according to Huffington Post. After these tests, the doctors who conducted the study found that the children of mothers who experienced three or more stressful events during pregnancy scored much lower on the tests than other children. The study also found that the point in the pregnancy that stress occurs also greatly effects the offspring.

When questioning the mothers, the researchers also kept track of their gestational age during the time of any reported stressful event. It was then discovered that women who experienced stress in the beginning of pregnancy were less likely to birth children who later developed coordination problems. The children of women who were stressed in the middle or end of pregnancy, usually gave birth to children who were clumsy in their teen years. Why?

The further a woman is into her pregnancy, the more brain forming that occurs in the fetus. If a woman’s hormones are thrown off from hardships and stress, this will effect the way the child’s brain forms, thus effecting its ability to move their bodies later in life. To prevent this from happening to future children, one professor involved in the study, Beth Hands, makes a suggestion for prevention.

“Given our findings on the importance of mothers’ emotional and mental health on a wide range of developmental and health outcomes, programs aimed at detecting and reducing maternal stress during pregnancy may alert parents and health professionals to potential difficulties and improve the long-term outcomes for these children.”

Doctors in agreement with the study and all of its data collection tactics believe that there are specific ways to reduce stress during pregnancy. One expert, Tegan Grace, Ph.D, recently made a statement suggesting a stress-reliever for pregnant women.

“Pregnant women who are under stress could be be consoled about cost-effective stress-reduction techniques such as gentle exercise.”

Despite the reality of the relationship between stress during pregnancy and a child’s ability to coordinate, many experts have rejected the data in the University of Notre Dame study because of the type of testing that was given. Because coordination basically means having good motor skills, Dr. Andrew Adesman of Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York, calls for a new trial that involves testing children for “real-life” motor skills, which involves daily tasks that may actually affect the quality of life. Adesman gives examples of these “real-life” actions, which includes things like buttoning a shirt.

“Those might be more real-world examples of motor deficits that affect people on a daily basis.”

The study which concludes that stress during pregnancy could leave a child with bad motor skills was published on Oct. 14 in the journal, Child Development.

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