Depression / anxiety in expectant mothers is linked to an increased risk of asthma in their children


Depression and anxiety in expectant mothers are linked to an increased risk of asthma and poorer lung function in their 10-year-old children. The results were published online in the journal Thorax.

The results suggest that the risk of later respiratory disease is likely programmed in the womb and not necessarily influenced by genetic, social, or environmental factors that have not yet been measured, the researchers say.

Mental distress, including anxiety and depression, during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of respiratory disease in preschool children. However, it is not known whether this relationship will persist into later childhood.

To find out, the researchers relied on participants in the Generation R study, a population-based prospective cohort study that followed life from early pregnancy in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

The level of general psychological distress, depression and anxiety experienced by each parent during the second gestational period and 3 years after birth was assessed using a validated 53-point questionnaire (Short Symptom Inventory).

Depression and anxiety were only noted in the mothers 2 and 6 months after birth.

A total of 362 (almost 9%) of the mothers and 167 (almost 4%) of the fathers were clinically depressed and / or anxious during pregnancy.

The lung function of 3757 offspring was measured when they were 10 years old and information on asthma was obtained from 3640 of them. Almost 6% (213) had asthma.

The general psychological distress of mothers and symptoms of anxiety and depression during pregnancy were all linked to a 45-92% increased risk of current asthma in their children after potentially influential factors such as age, ethnicity, and smoking during pregnancy Pets have been kept.

Taking into account the psychological stress on fathers during pregnancy has not changed this relationship.

And only the general psychological distress of the mothers during pregnancy was associated with one of three measurements of lung strength, the FVC, which was lower in their children. The children of mothers with depressive symptoms also had lower FEV1, another measure of lung function.

A further analysis of the patterns of psychological distress showed that mostly depressive or anxiety symptoms both during and after pregnancy were associated with an increased risk of asthma in the children.

However, the division of the potentially influential factors into three different groups, including lifestyle and health-related, socio-economic, and birth and early childhood factors, made no difference to the associations found.

The psychological stress of the fathers during pregnancy was also not associated with poor lung function or asthma in their children.

This is an observational study and as such cannot determine a cause. And few other studies have examined the potential impact of a mother’s plight during pregnancy on the health of her child (s).

Even so, there are plausible biological explanations for the results, the researchers suggest. This includes the excessive production of various hormones that are triggered by mental stress: glucocorticoids, for example, are the key to the development of the fetal lungs.

They conclude: “Our results may indicate an intrauterine effect of psychological stress on the mother during pregnancy on the development of the fetal lungs and the morbidity of the respiratory tract than an effect of unmeasured genetic, social, behavioral or environmental factors.”


Externally assessed? Yes

Type of evidence: Prospective cohort study

Topics: parents and children


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