Pregnancy: Motor Development, Coordination Problems Higher In Children Of Stressed-Out Moms

First Posted: Oct 18, 2015 01:28 PM EDT

New findings published in the journal Child Development reveal that mothers who are really stressed out during their pregnancy are more likely to have clumsy children.

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame Australia and the Telethon Kids Institute collected data from 2,900 primarily Caucasian Australian mothers. At 18 weeks pregnant, the participants were asked to complete a questionnaire regarding stressful events during their pregnancies, including financial hardship, separation or divorce, losing a close relative or friend, losing a job, marital problems, problems with the pregnancy and moving residences. Then, they were asked to complete the same questionnaire at 34 weeks pregnant.

Researchers assessed the children born of those pregnancies at 10, 14 and 17 years old. The children were grouped based on stressful events that happened to the mother during pregnancy, including those born to mothers who experienced no stress during pregnancy, those born to mothers who experienced fewer than three stressful events during pregnancy and those born to moms who experienced three or more stressful events during pregnancy.

They were assessed on their overall motor development and coordination with the help of a 10-item movement test that measured children's hand strength as well as their ability to touch a finger to one's nose and then back to the index finger, distance jump, walk along a line heel to toe and stand on one foot. The test also measured their ability to move small beads from one box to another, thread beads onto a rod, tap a finger over 10 seconds, turn a nut onto a bolt, and slide a rod along a bar as slowly as possible.

Previous studies show that low motor development has been linked to poorer short- and long-term mental and physical health outcomes. Therefore, researchers stressed the importance of early intervention and support.

"Given our findings on the importance of mothers' emotional and mental health on a wide range of developmental and health outcomes, programs aimed at detecting and reducing maternal stress during pregnancy may alert parents and health professionals to potential difficulties and improve the long-term outcomes for these children," Beth Hands, who coauthored the study, said in a statement.

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