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Maternal Stress During Pregnancy Predicts Cognitive Ability and Fearfulness in Infancy - Article Example

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The article, “Maternal stress during pregnancy predicts cognitive ability and fearfulness in infancy”, describes a study that aims to determine whether prenatal maternal stress has an effect on the infant’s cognition and behavioral fearfulness…
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Maternal Stress During Pregnancy Predicts Cognitive Ability and Fearfulness in Infancy
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 The article, “Maternal stress during pregnancy predicts cognitive ability and fearfulness in infancy”, describes a study that aims to determine whether prenatal maternal stress has an effect on the infant’s cognition and behavioral fearfulness (Bergman et al., 2007). Research involving animal experimentation finds that permanent neurodevelopmental changes in offspring can be caused by maternal prenatal stress (Weinstock, 2005). Many studies have found that maternal stress during pregnancy is related to adverse developmental effects to children in humans as well; however, the exact nature of that relationship remains unclear (DiPietro et al., 2006; King & Laplante, 2005).
Bergman et al. (2007), sought to help clarify the nature of the relationship between maternal stress during pregnancy and adverse child outcomes found in the existing research. In order to accomplish this, the study took other variables that may affect the relationship into account. These variables were whether the effects of prenatal and postnatal stress were independent of one another, whether adverse child outcomes were related more to any particular kind of stress, and whether adverse cognitive and behavioral effects were a greater risk for the same or different children (Id.). The authors of the article felt that the best way to develop an appropriate treatment or intervention plan, they had to identify and understand the “underlying mechanisms” of the relationships between maternal stress during pregnancy and adverse child outcomes (Bergman et al., 2007).
In order to determine adverse child outcomes, the researchers purposely chose two indicators known to put children at developmental risk – fearfulness/anxiety and cognitive delay (Bergman et al., 2007; Kagan, 2002). The results of the study added support to all of the prior studies that found maternal stress during pregnancy is a predictor of poorer child cognitive outcomes (Id.; King & Laplante, 2005). The study found that child mental/cognitive development was negatively related to prenatal maternal stressful life events; and, infant fearfulness was positively related to prenatal maternal stressful life events (Bergman et al., 2007). Furthermore, the study found that the form of stress most predictive of both outcomes was relationship strain with a partner (Id.). This finding adds to the previous research by suggesting that the child may be adversely affected by domestic violence, even during the prenatal period.
The study is best related to the social cognitive theory of social work which views social problems through the perspective of the individual. Social cognitive theory attempts to solve societal problems through individual counseling. Counseling pregnant women regarding the potential adverse child outcomes related to stress, for example, appears to be the most effective way to decrease and eventually eliminate stress-related adverse child outcomes.
This study is important because, in addition to the previously mentioned findings, other findings not only support the existing literature, but add to it as well. For example, this study found that child neurodevelopment is independently affected by prenatal maternal stress; and, this was accomplished by measuring both prenatal and postnatal maternal stress (Bergman et al., 2007). Another interesting finding of the study is that in regard to fearfulness and cognitive outcomes, different children are affected which suggests they have different “underlying mechanisms” (Id.). More research must be conducted to help further clarify all of the previous and current findings. Furthermore, while the current study does in fact add to the existing body of knowledge, it is not without its limitations.
One limitation of the study is the recruitment strategy and the study sample obtained with that strategy. All study participants were recruited from an amniocentesis clinic which resulted in a sample that was not representative of the average population. Another limitation of the study is that the results may have been biased because of the objective manner of recalling stressful life events; and, pregnancy itself has potential problems that may affect the assessment and recollection of stressful life events (Bergman et al., 2007). Finally, I found a weakness in the study to be the lack of discussion regarding the potential influences of genetics and hormones on any observed effects or results.
The clinical implications of the current study are a strength of the research. For example, one of the clinical implications is the potential to prevent anxiety disorder and when the prevention should occur (Bergman et al., 2007). Prior research shows that early intervention is most effective for anxiety and can improve child cognitive outcomes (Cicchetti, Rogosch & Toth, 2000). The current study suggests that any intervention or treatment for anxiety could be more effective if it was done during the prenatal period, especially for the mother (Bergman et al., 2007).
The current study further implies that intervention that starts in the prenatal period may have positive and long-lasting child outcomes (Id.). In agreement with previous research, the current study finds that the prenatal period and in utero environment is important for child neurodevelopment. Therefore, beneficial child outcomes may be achieved through “preventive intervention” in the prenatal period (Id.). While much more research is necessary in order to fully understand how maternal prenatal stress affects child outcomes, the current study can be considered a meaningful and important contribution to the body of knowledge regarding the effects of maternal stress during pregnancy on child outcomes. With the addition of new research, more appropriate and effective prevention, intervention and treatment plans can be developed in order to lessen, and eventually even eliminate, the adverse child outcomes that have been found to be related to maternal stress during pregnancy.
Bergman, K., Sarkar, P., O’Connor, T.G., Modi, N., & Glover, V. (2007). Maternal stress during
pregnancy predicts cognitive ability and fearfulness in infancy. Journal of the American
Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 46(11):1454-1463.
Cicchetti, D., Rogosch, F.A., & Toth, S.L. (2000). The efficacy of toddler-parent psychotherapy
for fostering cognitive development in offspring of depressed mothers. Journal of
Abnormal Child Psychology 28:135-148.
DiPietro, J.A., Novack, M.F., Costigan, K.A., Atella, L.D., & Reusing, S.P. (2006). Maternal
psychological distress during pregnancy in relation to child development at age two.
Child Development 77:573-587.
Kagan, J. (2002). Childhood predictors of states of anxiety. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience
King, S. & Laplante, D.P. (2005). The effects of prenatal maternal stress on children’s cognitive
development: Project Ice Storm. Stress 8(1):35-45.

Weinstock, M. (2005). The potential influence of maternal stress hormones on development and
mental health of the offspring. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 19:296-308. Read More
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