Anxiety In Pregnancy Increases Risk Of Behavioral Problems In Young Children
Anxiety and depression are at least as common during pregnancy as postpartum, and most women who suffer from postpartum depression were depressed before their child was born. A recent study in the community followed women through pregnancy and after birth, and found that 8.9 percent of the group were depressed eight weeks after giving birth, but only 3.5 percent were newly depressed. A similar pattern was found for anxiety.
The mood of the mother during pregnancy can have long-lasting effects on her child's development. Stress or anxiety during pregnancy are risk factors for premature birth and growth restriction within the womb, both of which are risk factors for behavioral problems in the child.
About the research
This study by the The Royal College of Psychiatrists, presented in Edinburgh in July 2003, followed a group of women and children from pregnancy until the child was seven. If the mother was rated in the top 15 percent for anxiety at 32 weeks into pregnancy (but not at 18 weeks), this doubled the risk for behavioral problems in both boys and girls at four and seven years old.
Factors such as postpartum anxiety, obstetric problems, gestational age and birth weight for gestational age, as well as the mother's drinking and smoking were taken into account. The findings strongly suggest that the links between prenatal anxiety and depression and later behavioural problems in the child are due to the fetal environment as well as genetics or parenting.
Prenatal anxiety was a stronger risk factor than postpartum depression. The effects were separate from, and additional to, those of postpartum depression.
The authors of the study conclude that it is important to detect and treat affective disorders during pregnancy, both for the direct benefit of the mother herself, and to reduce the later development of behavioral problems in children.