Association between maternal fever and psychological/behavior outcomes: A hypothesis




This study is one of the first to investigate the association between maternal report of fever during middle to late pregnancy and psychological, behavioral, and educational outcomes in offspring. The hypothesis guiding this research was that maternal fever during the second trimester of pregnancy has an adverse effect on the development of the central nervous system (CNS) of the fetus, resulting in abnormalities of psychological development and behavior that can be observed in childhood.


Multivariate analyses of a birth cohort compared outcomes for children whose mothers never reported fever during pregnancy and those who reported fever in the second and third trimesters. Children were compared on measures of temperament, behavior, and academic performance in infancy and at five and 12 years of age.


Associations were obtained for second-trimester fever and distress to novelty (p < 0.05) in infancy. Significant associations were also obtained for inhibition (p < 0.01), negative emotionality (p < 0.05), and lack of task persistence (p < 0.01) at age five. Furthermore, school achievement (p < 0.05) and task orientation (p < 0.01) at age 12 were associated with maternal reports of second-trimester fever exposure.


Much of the gestation/hyperthermia research has focused on the relationship between hyperthermia exposure and profoundly teratogenic outcomes. In this study we investigated subtler psychological/behavioral associations that may not be observable until later in development. Although the current study was hampered by technical limitations, the results support the need for more rigorously controlled research into a possible association between gestational fever and psychological/behavioral outcomes. Birth Defects Research (Part A), 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.