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Prenatal psychobiological predictors of anxiety risk in preadolescent children.

  • Author(s): Davis, Elysia Poggi
  • Sandman, Curt A
  • et al.
Abstract

Experimental animal models have demonstrated that one of the primary consequences of prenatal stress is increased fear and anxiety in the offspring. Few prospective human studies have evaluated the consequences of prenatal stress on anxiety during preadolescence. The purpose of this investigation is to determine the consequences of prenatal exposure to both maternal biological stress signals and psychological distress on anxiety in preadolescent children. Participants included 178 mother-child pairs. Maternal psychological distress (general anxiety, perceived stress, depression and pregnancy-specific anxiety) and biological stress signals were evaluated at 19, 25, and 31 gestational weeks. Anxiety was evaluated in the children at 6-9 years of age using the Child Behavior Checklist. Analyses revealed that prenatal exposure to elevated maternal cortisol, depression, perceived stress and pregnancy-specific anxiety was associated with increased anxiety in children. These associations remained after considering obstetric, sociodemographic and postnatal maternal psychological distress; factors that could influence child development. When all of the prenatal measures were considered together, cortisol and pregnancy-specific anxiety independently predicted child anxiety. Children exposed to elevated prenatal maternal cortisol and pregnancy-specific anxiety were at an increased risk for developing anxiety problems during the preadolescent period. This project identifies prenatal risk factors associated with lasting consequences for child mental health and raises the possibility that reducing maternal distress during the prenatal period will have long term benefits for child well-being.

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