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.”

3 Comments & Reviews

  1. One would expect then that the adhd rate of the children of wartime widows who were pregnant at the time of the death of their husbands would be astronominal. In Canada that would translate into far fewer post 1953 than the USA? Who have had far greater casualty rates from Vietnam, Iraq Desert Storm, Iraq Shock and awe, and afghanistan.
    Have there been any stydies of this phenomena?
    Since these are relatively recent has there been a noticable difference in the rate of childhood onset ADHD in the two countries? Because of universal healthcare in Canada the opposite effect would be expected.

  2. I have read a few articles along these lines. I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until my son was when he was 6. His behaviors are at the extreme end of the ADHD spectrum. During my pregnancy with him I was extremely stressed. I was working full time and was determined that I would work till the end because I had internalized a cultural message that taking it easy while pregnant was a sign of weakness. And, as with every major life transition I had had in my life up to that point the birth of my son completely derailed my fragile grasp on coping with my undiagnosed ADHD. The following two years I had intense depression and anxiety. I got things a bit more controlled and my second pregnancy was less fraught. Now my older has all these problems at home and school and my younger is doing just fine. I know every child is different but I carry a huge amount of guilt for all the crazy stress hormones I must have exposed my son to as well as the emotional lability of his first two years. I feel like I imprinted the worst of my ADHD on him in his most vulnerable time and I wish more than anything that I could have a do-over with what I know now.

  3. It is extremely hard specially for us who have children that inherit these genetic conditions.With age (73 ) I hope comes some wisdom and if not a lot of acceptance that We are and were a collection of characteristics that were beyond our control. Most of these I can now laugh at myself over the audacity that i could have controled everything. Or at least these things. Quite frankly i am not now nor never was that capable of. The difference is now i know that and even those peccadillos that i did gain some control over, i laugh now when age or whatever trips me up. My son and I have a running gag about some of his inherited medical conditions and impatience. But it really is about what kind of professional and medical assistance can be helpful for his far less acute problems than i have.nis words not mine. He has helped me get over that part especially by reminding me of the problems I had to deal with at the time and that despite my initials JC I am not that omnipotent.

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