Development and Psychopathology

Regular Articles

Prenatal stress and risk of behavioral morbidity from age 2 to 14 years: The influence of the number, type, and timing of stressful life events

Monique Robinsona1 c1, Eugen Mattesa1, Wendy H. Oddya1, Craig E. Pennella1, Anke van Eekelena1, Neil J. McLeana1, Peter Jacobya1, Jianghong Lia2, Nicholas H. De Klerka1, Stephen R. Zubricka2, Fiona J. Stanleya1 and John P. Newnhama2

a1 University of Western Australia

a2 Curtin University

Abstract

The maternal experience of stressful events during pregnancy has been associated with a number of adverse consequences for behavioral development in offspring, but the measurement and interpretation of prenatal stress varies among reported studies. The Raine Study recruited 2900 pregnancies and recorded life stress events experienced by 18 and 34 weeks' gestation along with numerous sociodemographic data. The mother's exposure to life stress events was further documented when the children were followed-up in conjunction with behavioral assessments at ages 2, 5, 8, 10, and 14 years using the Child Behavior Checklist. The maternal experience of multiple stressful events during pregnancy was associated with subsequent behavioral problems for offspring. Independent (e.g., death of a relative, job loss) and dependent stress events (e.g., financial problems, marital problems) were both significantly associated with a greater incidence of mental health morbidity between age 2 and 14 years. Exposure to stressful events in the first 18 weeks of pregnancy showed similar associations with subsequent total and externalizing morbidity to events reported at 34 weeks of gestation. These results were independent of postnatal stress exposure. Improved support for women with chronic stress exposure during pregnancy may improve the mental health of their offspring in later life.

(Online publication April 18 2011)

Correspondence

c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Monique Robinson, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Center for Child Health Research, University of Western Australia, P.O. Box 855, West Perth, WA 6872, Australia; E-mail: moniquer@ichr.uwa.edu.au.

Footnotes

The Raine Study is funded by the Raine Medical Research Foundation at the University of Western Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the Telstra Foundation, the Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation, and the Australian Rotary Health Research Fund. We also acknowledge the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and a National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia Program Grant (ID 003209), which supported the 14-year follow-up, and Australian Health Management, which supported the preparation of this paper. We are extremely grateful to all of the families who took part in this study and the entire Raine Study Team.