Experiencing stressful events during pregnancy could have serious effects on the child. According to a new study, these children are prone to be clumsier and less coordinated during their teenage years.
Senior author Beth Hands, a professor of human movement at the University of Notre Dame, Australia, explained the new findings call for programs aimed at reducing maternal stress during pregnancy as a way to improve the future health of these children.
Researchers interviewed 2,900 pregnant women in Australia for the study. They were asked twice if they experienced stressful events, at 18 weeks and 34 weeks of gestation; these events included separation or divorce, financial problems, or the death of a family member or close friend.
Next phase of the study was examining the participants’ children, analyzing ability to control body movements and overall coordination during three follow-ups, at 10, 14 and 17 years old. Exams included testing the kids’ grip strength, the ability to stand on one foot, and how far they could jump.
Researchers discovered that children born to mothers who went through more than two stressful events during pregnancy had performed poorer on all three tests, compared to the kids of mothers who experienced fewer stressful events.
Additionally, it turned out that undergoing these stressful events later pregnancy had a more serious effect on the children’s coordination. Researchers found an explanation, saying that later pregnancy is the time when the cerebellar cortex of the brain is developing – the very region associated with movement control.
However, it is still unclear how the study’s findings could be relevant for the participants in their day to day life. Dr. Andrew Adesman, head of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, said that some of the motor skills tested by the researchers are not of tremendous importance in life, such as the ability to stand on one foot.
Instead, he suggested that researchers do a follow up study and find whether stress was associated with more important coordination problems, in the likes of riding a bicycle or buttoning buttons. These potential motor deficits affect people more on a daily basis, and finding out if there is a connection could spark interest for relieving maternal stress during pregnancy.
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