By Michael Angelo, MSCP, MSJ
you know that a mother suffering from anxiety or depression can predispose her
unborn child to anxiety or depression? Researchers have discovered a connection
between maternal anxiety and depression during pregnancy and how the infant
responds to stress later on.
Pervasive influences on development exist, according to
researchers, including heightened anxiety, poor emotional regulation, and
impaired cognitive skills as the child moves through his or her early years,
according to researchers. Through their
discoveries, scientists have found an association between anxiety and
depression during pregnancy and behavioral reactivity to novelty (or new
situations) in infancy, suggesting that an unborn child developing in the
environment of a more anxious or depressed mother has an increased risk for
behavioral inhibition and perhaps later for an anxiety or depressive disorder.
What mother isn’t stressed or worried, anxious or down at times
during her pregnancy? Does that mean that every pregnant woman may be setting
up her child for a life of anxiety or depression? The research does not support
this claim but rather focuses on the effects of unhealthy levels of stress or
sadness on the baby in the womb.
Research confirms that children born to mothers who are, or who
have been, depressed or anxious inherit DNA that is different in important ways
from that inherited by children of nondepressed, nonanxious mothers, according
to researchers. The researchers report that DNA is assumed to regulate the
biological mechanisms of these children in ways that serve to increase or
decrease their vulnerability to depression or anxiety. Thus children of
depressed or anxious mothers may be inheriting directly a vulnerability to
depression or anxiety.
Examples of such vulnerabilities include an inhibited
temperamental style, shyness, negative affectivity, low self-esteem, negatively
biased perceptions of the environment, low sociability, and the likelihood of
experiencing poor parenting quality, life stress, and parental marital conflict
and divorce, the researchers reported. These variables could increase the risk
for depression or anxiety in children by leading them to select or avoid
particular types of environments, to attend or respond selectively to certain
aspects of their environments, thereby resulting in biased perceptions of the
interpersonal world, or to experience a disproportionate number of stressors.
These characteristics may, in turn, place the child at increased risk for
developing a depressive or anxiety disorder, researchers indicate.
While anxiety or depression may start with genetic predisposition
inherited through the mother, it might also have something to do with the
environment in which your child grows up. What does this environment look like
for your young child? Does it include behavior on your part that is
unpredictable, vacillating between well ordered and loving one moment to
seemingly out of control and indignant the next?
This is the reality for some parents, particularly those who don’t
know the Lord and aren’t under the positive influences of the Holy Spirit. And
yet, even Christian moms and dads can “lose it,” at times.
Life is stressful, and we don’t always react to it very well.
While we may not be physically or verbally abusive to our children, we can
place them in situations where our behavior in response to stress isn’t the
This makes it all the more important for us to be aware of things
we do inside the home, especially early on in our son’s or daughter’s life but
throughout their childhood, as well. Be particular cognizant of this if your
toddler is shy or quiet, or seem to be a worrier, even at a young age. Even if he
or she seems more resilient and independent, monitor his or her moods and
If you’re concerned about any anxious or depressive symptoms,
don’t hesitate to contact a mental health professional to discuss the
situation. Therapists specializing in anxiety or depression can be a tremendous
resource for you, providing help for your child and peace of mind for you.
While life is not a bed of roses, we can take steps to ensure our
children grow up as happy and healthy as possible. It’s what we want, and what
Michael is an anxiety
specialist at Heritage Counseling Center. To read his bio, click here. To
seek a consultation with Michael, call (815)
577-8970, ext. 254, or visit HeritageCounseling.com, Click on Request an Appointment. Select Michael Angelo from the list of