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Maternal Stress Linked to Child Development

Mothers' mild-to-moderate stress during pregnancy is associated with better development in children at 2 years of age

FRIDAY, May 19 (HealthDay News) -- Contrary to popular wisdom, maternal anxiety, depression and stress during pregnancy at mild-to-moderate levels may aid rather than hinder fetal maturation, according to a study published in the May/June issue of Child Development.

Janet A. DiPietro, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and colleagues studied 137 healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies, using maternal self-reporting to collect data on levels of anxiety, stress (both specific and non-specific to the pregnancy) and symptoms of depression. Data were collected during mid-pregnancy, as well as at six weeks after the birth and 24 months after the birth. At 2 years of age, 94 of the children were given developmental assessments and cardiac vagal tone was monitored.

The children of respondents who reported higher levels of prenatal anxiety, non-specific stress and depression were found to perform better on motor development tests. In addition, prenatal anxiety and depression were linked to more advanced mental development. The findings contradict those of animal studies which concluded that maternal stress has a negative effect on normal development in pregnancy.

"We found that modest anxiety and daily stress during pregnancy is associated with more advanced early child development. These findings remained even after accounting for levels of stress and anxiety women experienced at six weeks and at two years postpartum. Prenatal maternal stress also didn't interfere with children's temperaments, attention capacity or ability to control behavior and did not cause hyperactivity," DiPietro said in a statement.

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