Maternal Psychological Distress During Pregnancy in Relation to Child Development at Age Two


  • Supported by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD27592) and Maternal and Child Health Bureau, HRSA (R40 MC 00181) awards to the first author. We thank our study families for their generous and diligent participation.

concerning this article should be addressed to Janet A. DiPietro, Department of Population and Family Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, 615 N. Wolfe St, E4531, Baltimore, MD 21205. Electronic mail may be sent to


Concern exists that a constellation of negative maternal emotions during pregnancy generates persistent negative consequences for child development. Maternal reports of anxiety, pregnancy-specific and nonspecific stress, and depressive symptoms were collected during mid-pregnancy and at 6 weeks and 24 months after birth in a sample of healthy women with low risk pregnancies. Developmental assessment and cardiac vagal tone monitoring were administered to 94 children at age 2. Higher levels of prenatal anxiety, nonspecific stress, and depressive symptoms were associated with more advanced motor development in children after postnatal control for each psychological measure; anxiety and depression were also significantly and positively associated with mental development. Mild to moderate levels of psychological distress may enhance fetal maturation in healthy populations.