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How does stress affect children during pregnancy?
If women are stressed during pregnancy, this increases the risk that their children will suffer from personality disorders later in life.
The latest study by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland found that stress among expectant mothers during pregnancy contributes to an increased risk of personality disorders in their children. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "British Journal of Psychiatry".
How much was the risk increased?
The current examination is the first to show a connection between prenatal stress and personality disorders. Children whose mothers were exposed to severe stress during pregnancy are around ten times more likely to develop a personality disorder at the age of 30. If the mothers felt moderate stress during pregnancy, the risk for the children quadrupled. This could be due to the fact that pregnancy stress influences the way the child's brain develops, the researchers suspect.
What personality disorders occurred?
Personality disorders include, for example, behavioral problems that can lead to disturbed thinking, intrusive behavior, and aggression. Many people who are affected by these problems also suffer from other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and drug abuse. The study highlights the importance of mental health and support for pregnant women and families during the prenatal and postnatal periods, the researchers explain.
Data from more than 3,600 participants were examined
The study examined over 3,600 people born in Helsinki in 1975 and 1976. Participants' health was reassessed in 2005 when they were 29 or 30 years old. At this point, 40 of the 3,626 participants were diagnosed with a personality disorder. Taking into account the psychiatric history of parents and smoking mothers, both factors that are already known to affect the risk of personality disorders, the researchers found that people whose mothers were exposed to severe stress during pregnancy had one 9.53 times more likely to develop personality disorders than those whose mothers experienced no stress during pregnancy.
Prenatal stress affects brain development in childhood
Previous studies have found differences in the brain between people with and without personality disorder and have shown that prenatal stress affects brain development in childhood. It is also very likely that women who were stressed during pregnancy would continue to be stressed after the child was born, which could affect the mother-child relationship in the crucial early months of attachment. (as)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Ross Brannigan, Antti Tanskanen, Matti O. Huttunen, Mary Cannon, Finbarr P. Leacy, Mary C. Clarke: The role of prenatal stress as a pathway to personality disorder: longitudinal birth cohort study, in British Journal of Psychiatry (query: 06.09 .2019), British Journal of Psychiatry