Maternal stress link to kids' problems

By Deborah Gough
Social Affairs Reporter
July 23, 2004


Pregnant mothers with chronic stress levels could be transferring their anxiety on to their babies and creating problems for later in life.

Research from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, based in Perth, has found the pathway through which stress hormones in the mother travel through the uterine blood flow.

Professor Fiona Stanley, former Australian of the Year and a leading early childhood researcher, told a Melbourne conference yesterday that there was a link between maternal stress and behavioural problems such as attention deficit disorder.

Those stresses might be poverty, domestic violence, single motherhood or high-stress jobs.

Professor Stanley described the results as alarming.

"We don't know the proportion of women going through stress but we do now have a biological understanding of how stress explains social impact and the outcomes of that," Professor Stanley said.

She said work needed to be done to prevent maternal stress because treatment was expensive and largely ineffective.

She said good nurturing from birth could help reduce the effects of stress.

Professor Stanley said chronic, or unrelenting, stress was the danger.

"If it is something that is temporary it is dealt with and goes away. We are talking about the kind of stress that does not go away," she said.