Children born to women who experienced stressful events during pregnancy may be less coordinated in their body movements as teenagers, according to a new study.
The new findings suggest that "programs aimed at detecting and reducing maternal stress during pregnancy" may improve the long-term outlook for these children, study author Beth Hands, professor of human movement at the University of Notre Dame Australia, said in a statement.
In the study, doctors asked 2,900 women in Australia twice during their pregnancies — at 18 weeks and 34 weeks — whether they had experienced stressful events while they were pregnant. Examples of stressful events included financial problems, the death of a family member or friend, or a separation or divorce. [7 Ways Pregnant Women Affect Babies]
The researchers then examined the subjects' children, looking at overall coordination and ability to control body movements at three time points — when they were 10, 14 and 17 years old. For example, the researchers tested the kids' grip strength, how far they could jump, and how well they could stand on one foot or turn a nut onto a bolt.
The researchers found that the children born to mothers who experienced three or more stressful events during pregnancy scored lower on the tests at all three time points than the children of mothers who experienced fewer than three stressful events.
Moreover, stressful events that occurred in later pregnancy seemed to have a greater effect on the children's coordination than those that occurred earlier, the researchers said. This may be because later pregnancy coincides with the development of a brain region called the cerebellar cortex, which is involved in controlling movement, the researchers said.
However, it is not clear whether or how the results of the tests conducted in the study may translate into real-life impacts for the participants, said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, New York.
For example, the motor skills the researchers tested, such as the ability to stand on one foot, "may not necessarily matter much in life," Adesman told Live Science.
Instead, it would be more interesting to learn whether stress was linked with coordination problems such as buttoning buttons or riding a bicycle, Adesman said.
"Those might be more real-world examples of motor deficits that affect people on a daily basis," he said.
The new study was published today (Oct. 14) in the journal Child Development.