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Maternal psychological distress during pregnancy and childhood health outcomes: a narrative review

  • F. O. L. Vehmeijer (a1) (a2) (a3), M. Guxens (a4) (a5) (a6) (a7), L. Duijts (a1) (a8) (a9) and H. El Marroun (a1) (a7)

Maternal psychological distress is common in pregnancy and may influence the risk of adverse outcomes in children. Psychological distress may cause a suboptimal intrauterine environment leading to growth and developmental adaptations of the fetus and child. In this narrative review, we examined the influence of maternal psychological distress during pregnancy on fetal outcomes and child cardiometabolic, respiratory, atopic and neurodevelopment-related health outcomes. We discussed these findings from an epidemiological and life course perspective and provided recommendations for future studies. The literature in the field of maternal psychological distress and child health outcomes is extensive and shows that exposure to stress during pregnancy is associated with multiple adverse child health outcomes. Because maternal psychological distress is an important and potential modifiable factor during pregnancy, it should be a target for prevention strategies in order to optimize fetal and child health. Future studies should use innovative designs and strategies in order to address the issue of causality.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Dr H. El Marroun, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus MC – Sophia Children’s Hospital, P.O. Box 2060, 3000 CB Rotterdam, The Netherlands. E-mail:
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