Maternal pregnancy-specific anxiety is associated with child executive function at 6-9 years age

Department of Pediatrics, University of California Irvine, Orange 92868, USA.
Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands) (Impact Factor: 2.72). 11/2011; 14(6):665-76. DOI: 10.3109/10253890.2011.623250
Source: PubMed


Because fetal brain development proceeds at an extremely rapid pace, early life experiences have the potential to alter the trajectory of neurodevelopment, which may increase susceptibility for developmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. There is evidence that prenatal maternal stress and anxiety, especially worries specifically related to being pregnant, influence neurodevelopmental outcomes. In the current prospective longitudinal study, we included 89 women for whom serial data were available for pregnancy-specific anxiety, state anxiety, and depression at 15, 19, 25, 31, and 37 weeks gestation. When the offspring from the target pregnancy were between 6 and 9 years of age, their executive function was assessed. High levels of mean maternal pregnancy-specific anxiety over the course of gestation were associated with lower inhibitory control in girls only and lower visuospatial working memory performance in boys and girls. Higher-state anxiety and depression also were associated with lower visuospatial working memory performance. However, neither state anxiety nor depression explained any additional variance after accounting for pregnancy-specific anxiety. The findings contribute to the literature supporting an association between pregnancy-specific anxiety and cognitive development and extend our knowledge about the persistence of this effect until middle childhood.

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    • "This finding is consistent with earlier reports of poorer reaction time of 15-year-old boys of highly anxious (>75th percentile) women, along with decreased performance on two IQ subtests (Van den Bergh et al., 2005, 2006). In contrast, analysis of school-age children revealed that higher maternal pregnancy-specific anxiety interfered with inhibitory control in girls but not boys (Buss et al., 2011). Maternal depressive symptoms are often measured within the constellation of maternal stress and anxiety. "
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    • "In contrast, males appear more vulnerable to developing schizophrenic symptoms in response to perinatal stress (Van Os and Selten, 1998). Associated with prenatal stress, there is evidence that boys suffer from behavioral problems earlier in development (at one year of age; Gerardin et al., 2011), while girls display stronger effects during later life periods (Buss et al., 2011, 2012). Such sex-specific stress-induced behavioral differences are accompanied by differences in specific brain structures such as the amygdala, where girls show an increased volume compared to boys (Buss et al., 2012). "
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