Scientists from America’s Michigan State University found a direct link between abuse of pregnant women and emotional and behavioural trauma symptoms present in their subsequent babies in the first year of life.
The study of 182 mothers aged 18-34 found a strong relationship between a mother’s prenatal abuse by a male partner and post-natal trauma symptoms in her child.
Co-author professor of psychology Alytia Levendosky said symptoms included nightmares, startling easily, being bothered by loud noises and bright lights, avoiding physical contact and having trouble experiencing enjoyment.
“For clinicians and mothers, knowing that the prenatal experience of their domestic violence can directly harm their babies may be a powerful motivator to help moms (sic) get out of these abusive situations,” Prof Levendosky said.
Prenatal abuse could cause changes in the mother’s stress response systems, increasing
her levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn could increase cortisol levels in the foetus.
“Cortisol is a neurotoxic, so it has damaging effects on the brain when elevated to excessive levels,” Prof Levendosky said.
“That might explain the emotional problems for the baby after birth.”
Prof Levendosky said many domestic violence survivors didn’t believe the abuse would affect their child until the child was old enough to understand what was going on.
“But I think these findings send a strong message that the violence is affecting the baby even before the baby is born.”