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pregnant mom and her family

The link between a mom losing a relative during pregnancy and her child’s mental health

New Stanford research indicates that having a mom losing a loved one during pregnancy may affect the mental health of the child as he or she grows into adulthood.

It’s common knowledge that stress during pregnancy is neither good for mother nor child.

Now, research from Petra Persson, PhD, and Maya Rossin-Slater, PhD — both faculty fellows at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy and Research (SIEPR) — indicates that having a mom losing a loved one during pregnancy may affect the mental health of the child as he or she grows into adulthood.

“We find that prenatal exposure to the death of a maternal relative increases take-up of ADHD medications during childhood and anti-anxiety and depression medications in adulthood,” the researchers wrote in the April edition of the American Economic Review.

Their research focused specifically on singleton children in Sweden born between 1973 and 2011 whose mother lost a close relative during her pregnancy. The researchers used population registers to construct family trees that span four generations, from the children to their maternal great-grandparents. They then compared the outcomes of children whose mothers experienced a relative’s death while they were pregnant with those of children whose maternal relatives died in the year after birth.

“Of course, you cannot prevent family members from dying, and we certainly do not want our findings to constitute yet another source of stress for expecting mothers, who already face rather intense pressure to eat the right foods, avoid activities deemed harmful, and experience an avalanche of health advice,” Persson told me in an interview.

“But our findings potentially point to the importance of generally reducing stress during pregnancy, for example through prenatal paid maternity leave and programs that provide resources and social support to poor, pregnant women.”

I describe more of the work in this Stanford Health Policy article.

Photo by Getty Images

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