Associations of Maternal Prenatal Stress and Depressive Symptoms With Childhood Neurobehavioral Outcomes in the ECHO Cohort of the NICHD Fetal Growth Studies: Fetal Growth Velocity as a Potential Mediator

Academic Article


  • Objective: Maternal prenatal stress and mood symptoms are associated with risk for child psychopathology. Within the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Fetal Growth Studies (ECHO-FGS), a racially and ethnically diverse cohort, we studied associations between prenatal stress and depressive symptoms with child neurobehavior, and potential mediation by fetal growth velocity (FGV) in low-risk pregnancies. Method: For 730 mother−child pairs, we had serial ultrasound measurements, self-reports of prenatal stress and depression, observations of child executive functions and motor skills from 4 to 8 years, and maternal reports of child psychiatric problems. We tested associations between prenatal stress and depressive symptoms with child neurobehavior in regression analyses, and associations with FGV in mixed effect models. Post hoc we tested severity of prenatal symptoms; FGV at 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles; and moderation by biological sex and by race and ethnicity. Results: Prenatal stress and depressive symptoms were associated with child psychiatric problems, and prenatal depressive symptoms with decrements in executive functions and motor skills, especially in biological male children. Neither prenatal stress nor depressive symptoms were associated with FGV. Conclusion: In one of the largest cohorts with observed child outcomes, and the first with broad representation of race and ethnicity in the United States, we found that prenatal stress and depressive symptoms were associated with greater reports of child psychiatric symptoms. Only prenatal depressive symptoms were associated with observed decrements in cognitive abilities, most significantly in biological male children. Stress during low-risk pregnancies may be less detrimental than theorized. There was no mediation by FGV. These findings support the need to attend to even small changes in prenatal distress, as these may have long-lasting implications.
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    Author List

  • Babineau V; Fonge YN; Miller ES; Grobman WA; Ferguson PL; Hunt KJ; Vena JE; Newman RB; Guille C; Tita ATN
  • Start Page

  • 1155
  • End Page

  • 1167
  • Volume

  • 61
  • Issue

  • 9