A new research study suggests that prenatal stress is linked to behavior problems in toddlers. The study's results also point to a connection between marital stress and emotional problems in young children.
The study drew on the drew on the experiences of 438 first-time expectant mothers and fathers.
The parents were recruited from the East of England, New York State and the Netherlands. The team of researchers, from the Universities of Cambridge, Birmingham, New York and Leiden, followed up with the participants when their babies reached four, fourteen, and twenty-four months of age.
The study's results, published in Development & Psychopathology, suggest that stress levels during pregnancy in first-time mothers directly impact their children's behavior at two years old. Mothers who experienced stress and anxiety while pregnant were more likely to see behavior problems like temper tantrums and restlessness in their toddlers.
Relationship problems between parents in the newborn phase were also found to affect toddler behavior. Two-year-olds whose parents experienced conflict shortly after their births were more likely to be worried, unhappy, tearful, easily scared easily, or clingy in new situations.
This study is the first to examine the way that mothers' and fathers' wellbeing before and after birth affects children's behavior between the ages of one and two. We have previous evidence that a mother's mental health affects her children's emotional wellbeing, but now we know that fathers are similarly affected. We can also see how the relationship between parents impacts the child's wellbeing.
The birth of a new baby is one of the most stressful events a person can experience. There are financial concerns and caring for a newborn is physically and emotionally taxing. It is not surprising that both parents experience stress at this time, as well as marital conflict.
The results indicate a need for greater support for parents. This support is essential before, during, and after pregnancy.
Happier and more relaxed parents, both as individuals and as a couple, improve outcomes for children.