Expectant parents’ emotional struggles predict emotional and behavioural problems in 2-year-olds, new research shows. The same study reveals, for the first time, that couple conflict helps explain emotional problems in very young children.
Prenatal parental stress linked to behaviour problems in toddlers
The team of researchers – from the Universities of Cambridge, Birmingham, New York and Leiden – say their findings highlight a pressing need for greater support for couples before, during and after pregnancy to improve outcomes for children. The study is the first to examine the influence of both mothers’ and fathers’ wellbeing before and after birth on children’s adjustment at 14 and 24 months of age.
Lead author, Professor Claire Hughes from Cambridge’s Centre for Family Research, said: “For too long, the experiences of first-time dads has either been side-lined or treated in isolation from that of mums. This needs to change because difficulties in children’s early relationships with both mothers and fathers can have long-term effects.
“We have already shared our findings with the NCT (National Childbirth Trust) and we encourage the NHS and other organisations to reconsider the support they offer.”
The study, published in Development & Psychopathology, drew on the experiences of 438 first-time expectant mothers and fathers who were followed up at 4, 14 and 24 months after birth. These parents were recruited in the East of England, New York State (USA) and the Netherlands.
The researchers found that the prenatal wellbeing of first-time mothers had a direct impact on the behaviour of their children by the time they were two years old. Mothers who suffered from stress and anxiety in the prenatal period were more likely to see their child display behavioural problems such as temper tantrums, restlessness and spitefulness.
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Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.