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MSU, U-M study examining links between prenatal stress and emotional development in children

Pregnancy study to identify effects of stress on development.
Posted at 9:06 PM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 21:06:41-05

MSU CAMPUS — A team of researchers at Michigan State and the University of Michigan is working to track how pregnancy stress can impact children before they’re born.

There’s research that suggests prenatal stress can negatively impact social and emotional development in kids, said Alytia Levendosky, a professor of clinical psychology at MSU and a research lead for the prenatal stress study.

“We're interested, in our study, on specifically determining whether there are times during the pregnancy that are more vulnerable to stress than other times during the pregnancy. So, we're specifically examining the question of the timing of stress during pregnancy and how that affects moms and kids,” Levendosky said.

Jed Magen, who chairs MSU's Department of Psychiatry, says studies linking large amounts of stress during pregnancy to social and emotional development in children have been gaining popularity over the past decade.

“Whether it’s a physical or mental illness, early intervention is so incredibly important,” Magen said.

The study will follow women and their children from the first trimester of pregnancy until the children turn four to keep an eye on key developmental benchmarks.

“We are very interested in those first few years and how children are affected by the stress that happened during pregnancy in terms of their ability to regulate their emotions and how things like parenting can also play a role in helping kids develop,” Levendosky said.

For researchers like Levendosky, identifying stress as an intergenerational link between moms and their kids is the first step to improving prenatal care for women.

“I think we don’t do enough to give medical care to women. There’s a lot of discrimination in the system against women of color, against women who are living in poverty and those women need much better access to our care systems,” Levendosky said.

“If you’ve got a lot of stress in your life or say you’re depressed, you shouldn’t blame yourself, what you should do is go and access some help,” Magen said

Levendosky and her team are still recruiting women to take part in the study. If you or someone you know would be interested, you can email baby@msu.edu.

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