Recent research seems to indicate that the stress and grief resulting from the death of a cherished family member can extend to babies. Indeed, the loss of a relative while a mother is pregnant can lead to mental health issues later in her child’s development.
To perform its research, Stanford University examined Swedish infants born between the years 1973 and 2011; all of who has a mother whom had lost at least one close relative or family member during her pregnancy. The researchers follow these children up to adulthood, comparing those kids’ health to the health of children whose maternal family members died the year they were born. The data was collected through a combination of medical records and Sweden’s prescription drug registry. Finally, the researcher factored in the impact that a death could leave on a fetus, such as receiving stress from the grieving mother and her coping with adjustments to family and household.
After compiling their findings, the researchers discerned that prenatal exposure to a maternal relative’s death elevates the need for medications used in treating childhood ADHD, anxiety and depression. Additionally, their findings indicated that the loss of a relative no more than three generations apart was sufficient cause for such consequences. The authors wrote that their study gave new insight into circumstances that connect childhood development and adult mental health, as well as how stress can play a factor in that link. They added that such factors may play a greater role in developed countries than malnutrition.
The researchers recommend that governments work to establish policies engineered to minimize stress during pregnancy. It is their belief that the policies should place a greater focus on the circumstances of poor and impoverished families, as they are more prone to such stressful events than families in the upper tiers of income. While they confess that such findings are concerning, it is their hope that future generations of mothers and children will lead to healthier pregnancies and people with better mental health.
The scientists went on to address the impossibility of keeping family from dying and hoped that their results at least highlighted just how important it is to minimize stress during a pregnancy. Their suggestions for how to deal with stress during a pregnancy included employers agreeing to prenatal maternity leave with pay and the establishment and funding of government programs engineered to aid and comfort poor mothers-to-be.