Life Course Pathways to Prenatal Maternal Stress


  • Dr. Kingston's doctoral fellowship with the Strategic Training Initiative in Research in Reproductive Health Sciences was funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Public Health Agency of Canada.


Dawn Kingston, RN, PhD, University of Alberta, Edmonton Clinic Health Academy, Rm 5-258, 11405-87 Ave, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 1C9, Canada.



To evaluate the impact of childhood stressors, recalled childhood stress, and stressors in adulthood on perceived stress in pregnancy.


Prospective cohort study.


Pregnant women were recruited from pre-birth clinics in two communities.


Four-hundred and twenty-one pregnant women.


Perceived prenatal maternal stress was the main outcome measure. Recalled childhood stress was positively associated with prenatal stress (β = .54) after adjusting for other child and adult factors. Low family cohesion during childhood was indirectly associated with prenatal stress through its effects on recalled childhood stress, current family cohesion, and current subjective socioeconomic position (SEP). Low levels of adult subjective SEP (β = −.44) and family cohesion (β = −.25) were directly associated with prenatal stress. Perceived social support during childhood was indirectly associated with prenatal stress through its effect on recalled childhood stress and perceived social support in adulthood. Childhood subjective SEP indirectly influenced prenatal stress through its effect on adult subjective SEP and recalled childhood stress.


Prenatal stress is a result of the interplay between factors from childhood and adulthood. The study findings can be used to inform psychosocial risk assessment and interventions across the lifespan to decrease prenatal stress and its adverse outcomes.