Pregnant and Stressed May Mean Offspring Who Misbehave

Not the type of stress but the number of incidents has most effect, study finds

FRIDAY, April 22 (HealthDay News) -- Women who experience repeated stressful events while pregnant are more likely to have children with behavioral problems, a new study suggests.

Dr. Monique Robinson, a psychologist at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Perth, Australia, and the study's lead author, said that previous research had shown a link between stress during pregnancy and behavior problems in children but that the new study took that further by examining the timing, amount and kinds of stressful events that lead to such problems.

She and her colleagues analyzed data from nearly 3,000 pregnant women who reported stressful events at 18 and 34 weeks of pregnancy. Of those women, about 37 percent reported two or more stress events and nearly 8 percent reported six or more.

Money and relationship problems, job loss, issues with other children, a difficult pregnancy and a death in the family were among the stressful events cited by the women.

The behavior of the women's children was assessed at ages 2, 5, 8, 10 and 14 years.

"What we have found is that it is the overall number of stresses that is most related to child behavior outcomes," Robinson said in a news release from the institute. "Two or fewer stresses during pregnancy are not associated with poor child behavioral development, but as the number of stresses increase to three or more, then the risks of more difficult child behavior increase."

The actual type of stress experienced was found to be less important than the number of stressful events. Whether the stresses occurred early or late in pregnancy did not influence risk, the study reported.

The findings were published online April 18 in Development and Psychopathology.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians outlines ways to manage stress.

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