Stress, depression during pregnancy can harm child`s health for years

Updated: Jul 31, 2012, 16:14 PM IST

London: Stress and depression during pregnancy could hamper the unborn child`s health for years, researchers have warned.

A study by Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at King`s College London said that expectant mothers should be supported through stressful event such as bereavement or separation in the family.

The study done on English expectant mothers found that going through distress such as a bereavement or separation, dramatically increased the chances of the unborn baby suffering health problems by the age of four, the `Daily Mail` reported.

"Stress experienced during pregnancy induces biological changes in the unborn child that render it susceptible to the development of illness later in life," Researcher Jasmin Wertz was quoted as saying by the paper.

About 150 mothers-to-be were asked early in their pregnancy and again just a few weeks before giving birth about any stressful events affecting them, such as a family bereavement, separation, sudden unemployment and a difficult pregnancy.

The same women were interviewed four years later about their children`s health, including any illnesses that had led to hospitalisation.

The researchers drew a conclusion that the cause of child`s ill health in the first few years was due to the stress or trauma in pregnancy. Particularly asthma and chronic infections like tummy bugs were seen to be prevalent in such cases, the study revealed.

Some other symptoms in the mother-to be such as change in hormones or immune system affected the development of the child`s immune defences.

"We often talk about the concept of the foundation years, about the first two years of life being really important. This is true, but it is crucial that the foundation years start at minus six months," psychiatrist Carmine Pariante was quotes as saying.

However, doctors suggest that anti-depressants should be avoided during pregnancy to prevent birth defects.

Previous research has linked stress in the womb with lowering the unborn child`s IQ and raising the odds of hyperactivity, emotional problems and disobedience.