Study: Stress during pregnancy makes personality disorders in children more likely

New research has found that children whose mothers experience stress during their pregnancy are three times more likely to have a disorder by the age of 30. 

It is the first study of its kind, and the results even surprised researchers. Over 3,600 pregnant women in Finland took part in the study which found that while stress is a contributory factor for children being diagnosed with mental health disorders, severe stress during a mother's pregnancy could increase the chances of a child having a personality disorder tenfold.

All the women surveyed for this groundbreaking study lived around Helsinki and the babies examined were born between 1975 and 1976. When the children turned 30, all evidence of personality disorder were noted.

40 were found to have disorders that were so severe they required admission to hospital. It backs up previous research which found links between stress in pregnancy and the development of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.


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Personality disorder

Personality disorders are estimated to affect around one in 20 people.

It means that some parts of a person's personality makes life difficult for them and others - it can include anxiety, being emotionally unstable, paranoid of have trouble fitting in socially. They are also more likely to have other mental health problems and more likely to go on to have drug or alcohol problems.

But can a baby's personality be shaped solely during their gestation? Upbringing, brain disfunction and genes can also play a part, but in this case a link between pregnancy and a mother's stress levels need to be further explored before a casual connection is made.

This study also doesn't account for the outside factors that affect stress and child development - such as financial situation, parenting style and sexual trauma a person might experience as they grow up.



The authors of the study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, all agree that access to more mental health services for women during pregnancy is the key take-home message.

The finding that the brains of developing babies can be affected by a mother's stress may add to the guilt many mother's experience bringing new life into the world.

But it is important to not that any child's emotional development is affected by their mother's health in the months and years after birth, as well as during pregnancy - more reason to make sure access to mental health services for mothers and mothers-to-be is urgently addressed.

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