Does the mental health of pregnant women affect their unborn babies? Lately, maternal anxiety has been a frequent topic of psychiatric studies with findings mostly leaning towards the affirmative. Most recently, research published by The Archives of Disease in Childhood has linked excessive crying in infants with anxiety disorders in their mothers experienced before, during, and after delivery.

The Study

Based on prospective longitudinal research, known as Maternal Anxiety in Relation to Infant Development Study, this study interviewed expectant mothers for 16 months. The questionnaires assessed the women's current mental health, as well as any depressive disorders experienced throughout their lifetime. Their offspring were then analyzed based on crying frequency, up until few months after their first birthday.

Researchers found further evidence that anxiety in mothers has an influence on their infants. Their observations showed a significant relationship between maternal anxiety disorders and excessive crying in their babies. Interestingly enough, this relationship wasn't restricted to only women who experienced anxiety during pregnancy. In fact, maternal anxiety found prior to pregnancy and after delivery still exhibited a correlating influence on increased crying in offspring.

How Maternal Depressive Disorders Influence Offspring

While anxiety disorders showed this kind of effect in babies, depressive disorders didn't display the same relationship. Small sample sizes could have been the reason behind this, but lead researcher of the study, Johanna Petzoldt, hypothesizes another possibility: "one might speculate whether this points to different parenting styles in mothers with prior anxiety versus depressive disorders, but these mechanisms remain speculative."

The Relationship between Mothers and Their Infants

Although maternal anxiety was clearly linked to infant crying frequency, there was still a high number of women with prior anxiety who didn't report excess crying in their babies. Because of this, researchers speculate that anxiety disorders in mothers may be a small part of a larger, more complex relationship between mothers and their offspring.

Petzoldt calls for further studies that focus on maternal anxiety disorders. She believes that developing a process for monitoring mothers with anxiety could help assess mother-infant risks at earlier stages. Additionally, she adds that observing parenting styles of those who suffer from maternal anxiety could shed some insight on the study's findings.

Date of original publication:
Updated on: November 10, 2015

Sources

Petzoldt J, Wittchen HU, Wittich J, Einsle F, Höfler M, Martini J. Maternal anxiety disorders predict excessive infant crying: a prospective longitudinal study. Arch Dis Child, 2014 Jun 2. DOI: 10.1136/archdischild-2013-305562.

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