Expectant mothers may want to adopt stress management techniques, in light of new research from the University of Ottawa, Canada, which suggest they may lower the risk of problematic behaviour in their offspring.
Dr Ian Colman, associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine, led a team of researchers in examining data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The team found that mothers who experience significant prenatal stress may be increasing their child’s risk for behavioural issues.
Mothers who are exposed to high levels of stress during pregnancy have kids who are more than twice as likely to have chronic symptoms of hyperactivity and conduct disorder.
Hyperactivity is a symptom of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and about 10 per cent of school-age children are affected by ADHD or conduct disorder. These disorders can lead to poor results in school and difficulties in their relationships with family and friends.
Dr Colman said of the team’s recently published findings.
Behavioural disorders such as those seen by the researchers are characterised by aggressive or antisocial behaviour, high activity levels, and difficulty inhibiting behaviour. They are also associated with school failure, substance use/abuse, and criminal activity, thesays.
A mother’s stress can alter brain development in the foetus, and it is believed these changes may be long-lasting or permanent, said Dr Colman.
The team was unique in its approach: it studied the effects of specific stressors on participants, as opposed to gauging overall stress levels. Participants reported stressful events, such as problems at work, the illness of a relative, or an argument with a partner, family or friend.
Generally speaking, we found that the higher the stress, the higher the symptoms. We can’t avoid most stressful events in our lives and since we can’t always prevent them, the focus should be on helping mothers manage stress in order to give their children the best start in life.
Dr Colman said.