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Impact of Maternal Stress on Children’s Mental Health: In The Womb & After Birth

In The Womb

“Garbh Sanskar”, a popularly used phrase in the Indian culture represents the belief that a lot can be taught to the unborn child while still in the mother’s womb. Imagine, therefore, then that if positive thoughts and learnings can be imparted to the fetus, then clearly negative thoughts and a mother’s emotional stress can also affect the fetus. There is ample amount of research evidence that suggests that during the prenatal period, the fetus gets affected negatively by the stress levels of the mother. 

Research suggests that if mothers experience severe stress during the prenatal period, it can lead to a negative mental health impact on the child, the signs of which can be visible from early on, after birth. 

The pre-natal time is a critical time for the child’s neurodevelopment, and therefore, whatever the fetus is exposed to during this time period, has a lasting impact on the brain development and behavior of the child. 

Stress or exposure to traumatic events during the pregnancy period has been shown to be linked to an increased risk in autism, attention deficit, cognitive decline, delayed learning & speech, and affective disorders, among other conditions. 

Unfortunately, research evidence also suggests that the effect of a woman’s stress during pregnancy can also have lasting effects which can be seen across the child’s adolescence and young adulthood as well (Kinsella & Monk, 2014). 

Research suggests that babies who have been subject to prolonged maternal distress while in the womb, are at an increased risk of childhood depression and mood disorders, for the greater part of their lifespan. This is so because, when we are stressed out we release the hormone, ‘Cortisol’, in the brain. 

Prolonged periods of excessive cortisol in the brain, is responsible for a host of mental health issues. When in the womb, a fetus is subjected to these prolonged levels of cortisol, which alters the brain physiology of the newborn. 

It would, therefore, suffice to conclude that, pregnant women’s psychological health has long-lasting consequences on the neurodevelopment of the fetus and in consequence, of the child. Thus, it’s extremely essential that we pay close attention to the mental health of pregnant women and new mothers. 

This needs to be the first step, which if conducted properly can lead to offering the right guidance and interventions to women who need it.  

Photo by Garon Piceli from Pexels

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