Stressed mums ‘produce clumsy children’
Women who experience stress during late pregnancy may give birth to clumsier children, warns a new study. Research showed that ladies who went through major events such as the death of a loved one, financial worries or moving house could produce less co-ordinated offspring. Other events cited as negative influences on tension levels included divorce, marital problems and unemployment.
Women were interviewed when they were 18 weeks into their pregnancy and then again at 34 weeks. In the study appearing in the journal Child Development, money problems were the most common stress factor, affecting more than 25 per cent of women who were 34 weeks pregnant. Having a difficult pregnancy was the next most prevalent concern, while relationship tensions and issues with other children also proved a popular worry.
A total of 2,900 children were tested at the ages of 10, 14 and 17 by undergoing a 10-item movement exercise. They were asked to complete tasks such as standing on one foot, threading beads onto a rod, walking in a straight line and turning a nut on a bolt. Offspring whose mothers had experienced heightened anxiety in the latter stages of pregnancy recorded the worst scores for each age group.
Academics from the University of Notre Dame Australia believe this is a result of the accumulative effect of stress on the child’s brain within the cerebellar cortex, which develops later in pregnancy. A reduction in motor development could be linked to poor health and difficulty performing skills such as running, throwing and writing.
“(This study shows) the importance of mothers’ emotional and mental health on a wide range of developmental and health outcomes,” says Beth Hands, a co-author on the study and a professor of human movement at the university.
Previous research has shown reduced motor skills and balance in young monkeys after repeated maternal stress. It has been suggested stress hormone cortisol may have an impact.