Reducing pregnancy stress is key to optimal child development

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Improving access to care for expectant mothers experiencing a stressful pregnancy is one of many outcomes from a recent Western Australian study published in the international research journal, Child Development.

The study, conducted by researchers at The University of Notre Dame Australia and the Telethon Kids Institute, found that mothers who experienced more stressful events during their pregnancies had children who scored lower in motor coordination tests.

Professor Beth Hands, Senior Research Scholar in Notre Dame’s Institute for Health Research and co-author of the study, says this research can lead to the development of programs to support pregnant mothers through any challenges they may experience.

“Given our findings on the importance of mothers’ emotional and mental health on a wide range of child developmental and health outcomes, programs aimed at detecting and reducing maternal stress during pregnancy may alert parents and health professionals to potential difficulties and improve the long-term outcomes for these children,” Professor Hands said.

When children born of stressful pregnancies were aged 10, 14 and 17-years-old, they were assessed on their overall motor development and coordination using a 10-point test. The test includes measures of a child’s hand strength, hand-eye coordination in moving beads along a rod and turning a nut onto a bolt, balance and postural control.

The greatest differences in motor development outcomes were between individuals whose mothers experienced no stress and those who experienced high levels of stress due to a number of personal and socio-economic factors.

“Those expectant mothers who had been experiencing a stressful pregnancy identified financial hardship, losing a close friend or relative, separation or divorce, marital problems, pregnancy complications and job loss as contributing factors,” Tegan Grace, a PhD candidate and project researcher, said.

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“Screening for post-natal depression already takes place in most Australian antenatal clinics. This cost-effective model could be used to screen for maternal stress throughout pregnancy.”

This research is based on the Raine Study, jointly conducted by the Telethon Kids Institute and the University of Western Australia. The study started in 1989, when 2900 pregnant women were recruited into a research study at King Edward Memorial Hospital to examine ultrasound imaging. The mothers were assessed during pregnancy and health and lifestyle information was collected on the mother and the father.

After the children were born, they were assessed at birth, at one year, then two, three and five years of age. Further follow-ups of the cohort have been conducted at eight, 10, 14, 17, 20 and now 23 years of age.

Find out more about the Raine Study at

(Source: University of Notre Dame, Child Development)

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Date Created: December 1, 2015