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Prenatal stress and risk of behavioral morbidity from age 2 to 14 years: The influence of the number, type, and timing of stressful life events

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 April 2011

Monique Robinson*
University of Western Australia
Eugen Mattes
University of Western Australia
Wendy H. Oddy
University of Western Australia
Craig E. Pennell
University of Western Australia
Anke van Eekelen
University of Western Australia
Neil J. McLean
University of Western Australia
Peter Jacoby
University of Western Australia
Jianghong Li
Curtin University
Nicholas H. De Klerk
University of Western Australia
Stephen R. Zubrick
Curtin University
Fiona J. Stanley
University of Western Australia
John P. Newnham
Curtin University
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Monique Robinson, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Center for Child Health Research, University of Western Australia, P.O. Box 855, West Perth, WA 6872, Australia; E-mail:


The maternal experience of stressful events during pregnancy has been associated with a number of adverse consequences for behavioral development in offspring, but the measurement and interpretation of prenatal stress varies among reported studies. The Raine Study recruited 2900 pregnancies and recorded life stress events experienced by 18 and 34 weeks' gestation along with numerous sociodemographic data. The mother's exposure to life stress events was further documented when the children were followed-up in conjunction with behavioral assessments at ages 2, 5, 8, 10, and 14 years using the Child Behavior Checklist. The maternal experience of multiple stressful events during pregnancy was associated with subsequent behavioral problems for offspring. Independent (e.g., death of a relative, job loss) and dependent stress events (e.g., financial problems, marital problems) were both significantly associated with a greater incidence of mental health morbidity between age 2 and 14 years. Exposure to stressful events in the first 18 weeks of pregnancy showed similar associations with subsequent total and externalizing morbidity to events reported at 34 weeks of gestation. These results were independent of postnatal stress exposure. Improved support for women with chronic stress exposure during pregnancy may improve the mental health of their offspring in later life.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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