ADHD News & Research

Stop Stressing — Especially During Pregnancy

Lowering prenatal stress may reduce the risk of behavioral issues in children.

August 21, 2017

A new study suggests that women who experience high levels of stress during pregnancy are more likely to have children with behavioral disorders, like ADHD or conduct disorder. Researchers conclude that helping mothers manage prenatal stress may help temper behavioral issues once their child is born.

Researchers from the University of Ottawa used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children to assess the role maternal stress had on a child’s later development and behavior. They found that mothers who experienced high levels of stress during their pregnancy were more than twice as likely as less-stressed mothers to have a child diagnosed with ADHD or conduct disorder, two of the most common behavioral challenges facing parents today.

Stress during pregnancy can alter a fetus’ brain development, researchers said — leading to changes that result in academic, social, and behavioral difficulties. Since many stressful events — like a death in the family, for instance — are out of a mother’s personal control, the authors said, it’s imperative that mothers manage the stress they do have control over, like interactions with partners or work-related challenges.

To start, the research team outlined five strategies expectant mothers can use to avoid or manage their stress:

  1. “Identify what’s behind your stress and address it right away
  2. Talk to your loved ones to help them help you
  3. Simplify your life by shortening your to-do list and learning to say no
  4. Quiet your mind through yoga and mindfulness
  5. Find time to do something you enjoy, such as hobbies or physical activity”

“Generally speaking, we found that the higher the stress, the higher the symptoms,” said Dr. Ian Colman, the study’s lead researcher. “We can’t avoid most stressful events in our lives and since we can’t always prevent them, the focus should be on helping mothers manage stress in order to give their children the best start in life.”