If the mother is stressed during pregnancy this can affect her child:
As a baby
- The baby may be born a few days earlier
- Weigh a couple of hundred grams less
- The baby’s head might also be slightly smaller in circumference
- The baby may cry more, be a bit more fussy, and be harder to soothe.
However, this all refers to an increase in risk and it is important to remember that none of this may happen.
As a child
If the mother experiences stress during pregnancy, there is a higher risk of certain problems, including:
- ADHD – this is when the child has difficulty concentrating and may act impulsively
- Conduct Disorder – this is when the child has trouble controlling their temper, gets into fights and finds it hard to obey rules
- Emotional Problems – the child may suffer with anxiety or depression
These problems are all associated with an altered development of the brain.
Stress during pregnancy is not just linked to emotional and behavioural problems.
There is some evidence that the risk of autism and schizophrenia is increased, but much more research is needed in this area.
There is good evidence that children born from pregnancies where the mother experienced stress are more likely to be mixed-handed. This means that they are neither left or right handed, but can do things like writing with either hand.
There is even evidence that stress during pregnancy can change the fingerprints of the child.
However, even if the mother experiences lots of stress during pregnancy, we know that most children will be not be affected. It may in part depend on their own genetic make-up. If the child is genetically vulnerable in a certain way, then prenatal stress may bring out that vulnerability.
What can help
Many of the effects of prenatal stress can be helped by sensitive mothering, especially in the first year. If the mother is well attuned to her baby and responsive to his or her needs this can help enormously with the future development of the child.
However, it is never to late to help. It is just the younger the baby or the child the easier it may be to change things.