Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Influence of Maternal Emotions during Pregnancy on Fetal and Neonatal Behavior

Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Influence of Maternal Emotions during Pregnancy on Fetal and Neonatal Behavior

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The following problems are the leading questions of our research project: (1) Can the influence of maternal emotions upon fetal behavior be established in the prenatal period, using real-time ultrasound echography and cardiography? (2) Is the prenatal influence, established in the prenatal period, reflected in the neonatal behavior? And can we find significant correlations between maternal emotions during pregnancy on the one hand and neonatal and infant behavior-e.g. neonatal neurological state and behavioral states organization, feeding behavior, mother-infant-interaction, infant temperament-on the other hand?

Results are as follows: (1) A longitudinal study of 30 women out of a larger group of 70 nulliparous women revealed that maternal state anxiety during echographic recording (120') was significantly correlated with fetal behavior. Moreover it was found that fetal behavior was sensitive to the influence of maternal chronic anxiety (trait anxiety) during pregnancy. (2) Results on the subgroup of 30 women and their babies seem to suggest a certain degree of continuity between fetal and neonatal movement patterns and further indicate that the prenatal influence is reflected in neonatal behavior. Analysis of the follow-up data (n = 70) revealed other effects of maternal emotions (studied during each pregnancy trimester and at the 1st, the 10th and the 28th week after birth) on infant behavior (observed at the 1st, the 10th and the 28th week).

It has been suggested that maternal stress and emotions during pregnancy may affect fetal and neonatal behavior and development. This hypothesis has become the subject of scientific inquiry during the last decades (Carlson & LaBarba, 1979; Istvan, 1986; Van den Bergh, 1983,1988), but interest in this topic already had a long history by that time.

Regarding the effect of maternal emotions on fetal behavior, the observation has been made (apparently for the first time in 1867 by Whitehead) that mothers under severe emotional stress tend to have hyperactive fetuses (Ferreira, 1965; McDonald, 1968; Montagu, 1962; Wolkind, 1981). Sontag (1941) reported similar observations in eight cases in 1941. Other case reports showed that when the mother is anxious (Copher & Huber, 1967) or emotionally upset (Eskes, 1985) the fetus show tachycardia. In 1980, during an earthquake in southern Italy, Ianniruberto and Tajani had the opportunity to examine 28 panic stricken women (18-36 weeks pregnant) with ultrasonography. All fetuses showed intense hyperkinesia which lasted from two to eight hours and their movements were numerous, disordered and vigorous. Zimmer et al. (1982) concluded from their study that far less intense maternal emotional conditions (e.g. listening to music) also can affect fetal behavior. Field et al. (1985) compared a group of women who received video and verbal feedback during ultrasound examination to a no-feedback group. They concluded that the feedback appeared to reduce pregnancy anxiety and fetal activity. We have been unable to find controlled studies on the effect of maternal emotions on fetal behavior, in which fetal behavior was observed in a direct and standardized way and for a sufficiently long period.

With regard to the influence of maternal emotions during pregnancy on neonatal (and postnatal) behavior, Sontag (1941, 1966) observed that infants of emotionally disturbed women tend to have high activity levels following birth. These infants have also been characterized as irritable, poor sleepers and prone to gastrointestinal difficulties (Dodge, 1972; Ferreira, 1960; Turner, 1956 and see Carlson & LaBarba, 1979). Ottinger and Simmons (1964) reported that two to four days postpartum, infants of high anxious pregnant women cried significantly more than infants of low anxious pregnant women. Farber et al. (1981) observed that such babies showed a deviant behavior on the Brazelton Neonatal Behaviour Assessment Scale. According to Vaughn et al. …

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