What are the effects of maternal anxiety on the developing fetus?
This is a very difficult question to answer with any certainty. Glover and her group have in the past studied the effects of stress in terms of contraction of the uterine artery (causing distress to the fetus) and also the correspondence of high levels of cortisol in the mother and in the fetus. In the present very important report, this group attempts to investigate the behavioral outcome in children at age four, whose mothers suffered from various stressors and emotional difficulties during the pregnancy with them.
This huge study involved 7448 pregnant women and their children up to age four. Women were assessed at various periods during the pregnancy for their level of anxiety, depression, presence of stressors, including obstetric risks. Anxiety in the mother predicted statistically more behavioral difficulties in boys and girls at age four, in terms of inattention and more hyperactive behavior in particular, although it was also associated with emotional difficulties. The authors suggest a direct association between maternal anxiety and an influence on the developing brain of the fetus.
O’Connor TG, Heron J, Golding J, Beveridge M, Glover V.Maternal antenatal anxiety and children’s behavioural/emotional problems at 4 years. Report from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.Br J Psychiatry 2002 Jun;180:502-8