Let's be honest with ourselves and to each other: pregnancy can be a scary thing. You have a tiny human being growing inside of you that's depending on you to grow properly. Then there are all of the worries that accompany pregnancy; gestational diabetes, having to go on bed rest, high blood pressure, a high-risk birth and so much more can bring on more anxiety. All of this is especially true if it's your first pregnancy.
But holding on to so much of that anxiety during your pregnancy can harm your child more than you think. A new study out of Copenhagen, Denmark revealed that women experiencing anxiety while pregnant are twice as likely to have children who later developed hyperactivity. This condition was diagnosed in teenagers, and also had no impact on the attention level of children aged 8-and-a-half.
The results came from a long-term study conducted on over 3000 children living in the United Kingdom. These children in particular had mothers who experienced medium-to-high maternal somatic anxiety between their 18th week of pregnancy, and up to five years postpartum. It came out that the children from mothers who fit the aforementioned time period and anxiety levels had a twofold increased risk for hyperactivity and inattention symptoms by 16 years old.
The study's lead author was Blanca Bolea-Alamañac, Ph.D., who's the assistant professor of Adult Psychiatry and Health Systems at the University of Toronto. She made a point to mention numerous explanations as to why there's a connection between maternal anxiety and childhood hyperactivity. This includes if hormones made in the placenta are affecting the mom-to-be's brain (also known as fetal–brain programming hypothesis), the mom's home environment, and even genetics. Each factor has different things that need to be expanded on in their respective ways, and Bolea-Alamañac noted that in the published study.
On this subject, older studies have previously pointed out that prenatal exposure to anxiety is linked to a child being diagnosed with hyperactivity as young as four years old. Hyperactivity can also develop in a child by the time they're seven years old. So, it's clear that maternal anxiety can affect whether or not a child is likely to be diagnosed with this particular condition.
Having said all that, it's still not yet clear if the exposure to maternal anxiety at different prenatal or postpartum periods will create a possibility of hyperactivity in a child. It's also unknown as to whether or not such effects will stay in the long-term. Perhaps there will be more studies carried out in the future to dive deeper into this subject matter.