Child Mental Health Risks Linked to Stress During Pregnancy

Child Mental Health begins in the womb

Recent research indicates that the offspring of mothers undergoing heightened stress, anxiety or depression during pregnancy face an increased likelihood of encountering mental health and behavioural challenges throughout their childhood and adolescence. This child mental health awareness condition was referred to as ancestral trauma by Gabor Maté, a Hungarian-born Canadian physician, speaker, and author known for his work in the fields of addiction, stress, childhood development, and child mental health issues. 

This comprehensive study, synthesising data from 55 research projects involving over 45,000 participants, establishes a connection between maternal distress during pregnancy and externalising behaviours in children, such as symptoms associated with ADHD, aggression and other child mental health issues. Notably, this impact persists independently of postnatal psychological distress, underscoring the imperative for accessible mental health care and support during pregnancy to mitigate childhood behavioural issues.

Key Highlights

  1. Maternal psychological distress during pregnancy, encompassing stress, depression, and anxiety, correlates with an elevated risk of child mental health issues including developing externalising problems.
  2. The research spans diverse age groups, with the most pronounced effect observed in early childhood but persisting through middle childhood and adolescence.
  3. Future investigations aim to address diversity and cultural factors in prenatal stress, contributing to the development of inclusive public health policies and interventions

Children whose mothers experience high levels of stress, anxiety or depression during pregnancy may face an increased risk of mental health and behavioural issues during childhood and adolescence, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association. Dr. Irene Tung from California State University Dominguez Hills, the study’s author, notes that the research suggests a small but persistent effect of psychological distress during pregnancy on children’s propensity for aggressive, disinhibited, and impulsive behaviours. These findings highlight the importance of widely accessible mental health care and support during pregnancy to prevent child mental health issues and subsequent behaviour problems.

Unlike previous studies that often did not distinguish between prenatal and postnatal psychological distress, this research specifically focused on both periods. Even after accounting for postnatal distress, the study demonstrated that distress during pregnancy increased the risk of children developing externalising problems. This effect remained consistent for both boys and girls and across different age groups, with the strongest impact observed in early childhood.

The research aligns with theories proposing that exposure to stress hormones in utero can influence children’s brain development. Tung emphasises the need for future research to consider diversity, understanding cultural and socioeconomic variables influencing prenatal stress, and developing interventions for underrepresented families. She highlights the importance of addressing racism, economic disparities, and healthcare access as contributors to stress during pregnancy.

Source: Lea Winerman,

Study published by the American Psychological Association

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About The Author

An experienced therapist Jille Tringham is the owner of Meditate Place and has years of personal and industry expertise. Her unique therapeutic approach can offer long term release and the ability to cope with emotional issues that cause daily setbacks and uncertainty in your life.  Jille Tringham has a number of years experience in human behaviour both in a commercial setting and as a therapist. She provides therapies from her Birmingham base to release you from your day to day challenges, as well as Life Coaching and Career Mentoring because she understands the physical and emotional strains that spill into all areas of life