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Prenatal Parental Stress Could Lead to Problems with Children

Couples in conflict can have a direct effect on the behavior of their children

November 6, 2019
Bridget Houlihan

Everyone knows that children are great observers, but did you know that they can also be impacted by what they see and hear? A recent study looked at how parents’ emotional struggles can have repercussions on the behavior of their children. When couples are in conflict, this study revealed that this can be the cause of emotional and behavioral problems in toddlers. This study was the first of its kind to examine how the well-being of both parents can have an impact upon their children.


In this article, we’re going to examine:

  • How mothers’ and fathers’ relationships affected their children
  • What happens to children who are affected
  • Where antenatal support stands


couple looking across the lake
The relationship between mothers and fathers can have a large impact on the behavior of their children.

Healthy Emotional Relationships are Key

This study done in conjunction with the University of Cambridge, Birmingham, New York, and Leiden was the first to compile the experiences of both first time moms and dads, and their responses to standardized questions prior to birth, at 14 months, and then again at 24 months. The researchers hoped to use this data-- particularly that from the first time dads-- in order to help change the amount of support available for new parents.


A couple’s relationship was found to have a significant effect on the behavior of their children. The mother’s prenatal well-being in particular had a direct impact on her children-- if she had suffered through stress and anxiety throughout the prenatal period, this would manifest in children. By the time they were two years old children with a stressed mother tended to have behavioral problems and showed a higher proclivity to displaying temper tantrums, restlessness, and even spitefulness. This was very interesting to the researchers, and could prove that mental health and emotional well-being provide a much more significant impact on children than previously thought.


If the couple was experiencing relationship issues, the two year olds were much more likely to be worried, unhappy, or clingy in certain situations. Because these problems exhibited such drastic effects on the children, there is clearly a greater need to take the healthiness of the couple’s relationship prior to birth more seriously.


couple laughing
Mental health and your relationship with your partner are important factors to consider before becoming pregnant.


How Those Impacts Are Felt

This study was conducted using both parents, and tracked their emotional responses over a significant amount of time. In addition, it was also interested in seeing the responses of the children to their relationships over the first two years of life. This offered a significant amount of data that goes beyond just the well being of one parent or another-- and it includes the overall mental health of each parent, as well as their relationship to each other. When there is something lacking in the couple’s relationship, there is a significant chance that their children will respond with different types of behavior.


Genetic factors can also play a key role in a child’s response to their parents’ mental health and relationship. As the results of this study show, these factors can make a large impact on the future behavior of their children. The data in this particular study was collected via questions and in person interviews of each parent. They were asked to assess their symptoms of anxiety and depression in the last trimester of pregnancy as well as when the child was 4, 14, and 24 months. With both parents answering questions at these different stages, the researchers were able to get more information as what factors were at play.


doctor's stethoscope
Prenatal care should be expanded to include the mental health and well-being of both mothers and fathers.

Upping Prenatal Care

As the results of this analysis show, there are a significant amount of factors that can influence the future behaviors of the children of first time parents. Linking the mental health level as well as the relationship of the couple to a child’s behavior proves that there might be some room for improvement when it comes to prenatal care. For the first time, the responses of the father were considered, along with the mother’s. This is important information since if the father is feeling anxious or stressed, chances are his partner is too. All of this will have an effect on their child as well. Including fathers in prenatal care and consideration is extremely important, and can help alleviate some of the stress involved with having a child.


It would be wise to remember that the relationship of the mother and father is very important too, and it is crucial couples are given the support that they need to maintain their healthy relationship. By opening the lines of communication between partners, they can hopefully ensure a better relationship with each other and contribute to the well being of their child.


Emotional relationships are our foundations, and as this study shows, can have a significant impact upon the behavior of children. It is important that moving forward with this knowledge the healthcare industry strives to give the support required by both parents to prepare with this new stage in their lives.


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