September 25, 2019
2 min read
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Maternal anxiety during pregnancy, early childhood linked to hyperactivity in teens

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Children born to mothers with anxiety during pregnancy and a few years after birth were more likely to have hyperactivity when they were 16 years old, according to study findings presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress.

“We should be aware that anxiety happens during pregnancy, and to be able to develop tools and support for these mothers,” Blanca Bolea, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Toronto, and previously of the University of Bristol, England, told Healio Primary Care.

Previous studies have found links between maternal stress and depression and long-term health outcomes in offspring, but Bolea and colleagues said their study is the first to identify a link between maternal anxiety and hyperactivity later in life.

In their analysis, the researchers classified women who participated in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children as having, low, moderate or high anxiety based on how frequently they reported physical signs of the disorder. The study included 8,725 women who reported anxiety from early pregnancy until their children reached 5 years of age.

Pregnant Woman 
Children born to mothers with anxiety during pregnancy and a few years after birth were more likely to have hyperactivity when they were 16 years old, according to study findings presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress.
Source: Shutterstock

Additionally, 3,199 children completed attention tests at 8.5 years of age and a questionnaire that measures hyperactivity and inattention at 16 years of age.

All women who participated in the study experienced an increase in anxiety leading up to delivery, according to the authors.

There was no difference in attention among children born to mothers with high, moderate or low anxiety at 8.5 years. However, at 16 years of age, there were significant differences in hyperactivity between those born to mothers with high or moderate anxiety and those born to mothers with low anxiety.

Hyperactive symptoms were identified in approximately 5% of those born to mothers with low anxiety. Children of mothers who had greater anxiety were about more than twice as likely to have hyperactive symptoms, with symptoms found in 11% of those born to mothers with moderate anxiety (OR = 2.27; P < 0.001) and 11% of those with high anxiety mothers (OR = 2.23; P =0.003).

Bolea said further research is needed to determine the exact cause of the link between maternal anxiety and hyperactivity in children during adolescence. Possible explanations could be that anxiety caused mothers to release hormones that affected their child’s brain development, or that children developed hyperactive behaviors to adapt to an environment with an anxious mother, she said.

“We’re only looking at one outcome, ADHD, but anxiety may affect all kinds of other things, so we need more studies to know exactly how it effects the child, and what factors are protective,” Bolea told Healio Primary Care. “If we can identify women who are anxious in pregnancy, or during motherhood and we can treat them, then we may be able to prevent these potential harmful effects.” – by Erin Michael

Reference:

Bolea, et al. Maternal trajectories of anxiety in the perinatal period and hyperactivity and inattention in children. Presented at: European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress; Sept 7-10, 2019; Copenhagen, Denmark.

Disclosure: Bolea reports no relevant financial disclosures.