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Effects of Maternal Prenatal Stress on Infant Outcomes: A Synthesis of the Literature

Ruiz, R. Jeanne PhD, RN, WHNP; Avant, Kay C. PhD, RN, FAAN

Original Article

There is growing evidence that maternal prenatal stress may be hazardous to infant health. Changes in maternal hormonal and immune function as a result of stress may adversely affect the immune function and neurodevelopment of the fetus. Prenatal stress in the mother may produce lasting effects on the (1) infant's health status, (2) development and function of the infant's immune system, and (3) neurocognitive development of the infant. This article provides a synthesis of current human and animal literature on the effects of maternal prenatal stress on the developing fetus and the infant, with the resulting model evolving out of the framework of psychoneuroimmunology. The intent of the authors is an integrative review. The authors examined the following research question: What effect does maternal prenatal stress have on infants' immune development and neurodevelopment? All relevant studies were reviewed with no exclusion criteria. Major databases (CINAHL, MEDLINE, PsychINFO) were searched using a combination of the following key words: prenatal stress, cytokines, thymus, and infant neurodevelopment.

University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston (Dr Ruiz); and the School of Nursing, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin (Dr Avant). Dr Avant is now with the School of Nursing, The University of Texas Health Science, San Antonio.

Corresponding author: Kay C. Avant, PhD, RN, FAAN, School of Nursing, The University of Texas Health Science Center-San Antonio, 7703 Floyd Curl Dr, San Antonio, TX 78229 (e-mail:

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.