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date: 24 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Many independent prospective studies show maternal stress, anxiety, or depression during pregnancy poses an increased risk for her child to have a wide range of adverse outcomes including emotional problems, ADHD or conduct disorder, or impaired cognitive development. Several studies have shown that these adverse outcomes are independent of possible confounding factors, such as postpartum anxiety and depression. Most children are not affected, and those who are can be affected in different ways, probably due to different genetic vulnerabilities and the quality of postpartum care. An evolutionary explanation for the observed changes is proposed. Underlying mechanisms are just starting to be understood: altered function of the placenta, allowing more of the stress hormone cortisol to pass through to the fetus, may well be important, as may epigenetic changes. The implications are that improved emotional care of pregnant women should improve outcomes for their children to a clinically significant degree.

Keywords: prenatal, stress, anxiety, depression, fetus, programming, neurodevelopment, psychopathology, evolution, cortisol

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