The Effects of Stress during Pregnancy
Reported February 05, 2008
There may be a connection between extreme stress in pregnancy and schizophrenia in the offspring some time in the future, scientists say.
This has been disclosed in the Archives of General Psychiatry by a team of researchers from the University of Manchester under the guidance of obstetrician and professor of maternal and fetal health, Prof Philip Baker and Ali S. Khashan, M.Sc., and from Aarhus in Denmark. The researchers studied the data of about 1.38 million births occurring between 1973 and 1995 in Denmark before coming to this conclusion.
They found that the risk of schizophrenia and disorders connected to it was about 67% higher among the children of mothers-to-be who had suffered the loss of a loved one while they were in their first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
According to Prof Philip Baker, “We are learning that the environment a baby is exposed to inside the womb is determining long-term health.”
“That very early stage, which some people don’t pay enough attention to, is the most important determinant of how successful a pregnancy is going to be.”
About 22,000 mothers suffered the death of a close relative during pregnancy and other mothers, 14,206 of them, experienced a relatives’ serious illness while they were still pregnant. It was found that 7,331 of the children developed schizophrenia later on. The chance of schizophrenia and linked disorders was about 67 percent more among the children of women who had been exposed to these tragedies during the first trimester.
The connection between the women and their close family members was done with a national registry. The registry was also used to find out whether any of the relatives had died or had received a diagnosis of a fatal disease during the mothers’ pregnancies. Their children were observed from the 10th birthday up to June 30, 2005 unless they had died, emigrated or developed schizophrenia by that time.
The researchers believe that chemicals that are discharged by the mother’s brain as a reaction to stress may directly influence the unborn baby’s developing brain.
This seems to bear out what people have believed all along-that a fetus can be affected by the mental state of the mother.
Earlier studies had also found a connection between stress in pregnancy and an increased chance of a baby being born premature and underweight.
Other studies have also insinuated that brain structure abnormalities and brain function abnormalities linked to schizophrenia begin to form in the very early months of growth.
But the researchers did not find any proof of their suspicions. Besides, the connection between mourning and the danger of schizophrenia seemed noteworthy only in the case of people with no family history of mental illness.