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Impact of Maternal Stress, Depression and Anxiety on Fetal Neurobehavioral Development


Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology: September 2009 - Volume 52 - Issue 3 - p 425-440
doi: 10.1097/GRF.0b013e3181b52df1
Psychiatric Disorders in Pregnancy

Although postnatal psychologic distress has been widely studied for many years, particularly with a focus on postpartum depression, symptoms of maternal depression, stress, and anxiety are not more common or severe after childbirth than during pregnancy. This paper reviews the newer body of research aimed at identifying the effects of women's antenatal psychologic distress on fetal behavior and child development, and the biologic pathways for this influence. These studies are in line with the growing body of literature supporting the “fetal origins hypothesis” that prenatal environmental exposures—including maternal psychologic state-based alterations in in utero physiology—can have sustained effects across the lifespan.

*Behavioral Medicine Program, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center

New York State Psychiatric Institute

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, New York

Correspondence: Catherine Monk, PhD, Behavioral Medicine Program, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, 1150 Saint Nicholas Avenue, Suite 1-121, New York, NY. E-mail:

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.