Saturday, April 21, 2012

Anxiety or Depression May Start in the Womb

By Michael Angelo, MSCP, MSJ

Did 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 best.

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 behavior.

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 God expects.

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, Click on Request an Appointment. Select Michael Angelo from the list of therapists.

No comments:

Post a Comment