Maternal stress during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of schizophrenia for child


Research suggests that high stress levels experienced by the mother during pregnancy can increase the chances that the child will have schizophrenia later in life. Higher stress levels during pregnancy has also been linked to lower child IQ.

The relationship between maternal stress and schizophrenia seems to be complex. While there is some contradictory information with regard to this schizophrenia risk factor; there does seem to be a consensus that increased maternal stress (which increases circulating levels of stress hormones such as CRH, ACTH,and cortisol) increases the general incidence of developmental delays or behavioral problems in offspring.

Moreover, stress during pregnancy is linked to many other factors that increase risk for schizophrenia - such as lower birth weight of child (a known risk factor for schizophrenia), and it is also known that increased levels of stress can lower the immune system; which opens a woman up to infections (that are also known risk factors for schizophrenia). The relationship between maternal stress and schizophrenia is, therefore, likely to be quite complex. However the number of research studies that suggest "stress" is a negative factor in pregancies in general, that families should do as much as possible to keep stress levels low for the pregnant mother. Related Reading: Pregnancy stress 'passed to baby' (BBC News, September, 2005) and Childhood family stress link to increased risk of schizophrenia.

In November, 2005, research at Imperial College London, revealed that pregnant women who are stressed double the risk of their babies having lower than average IQs. Professor Vivette Glover, who conducted the study, followed the progress of almost 70 women and their children. The children of women who were believed to have suffered greater levels of stress during pregnancy scored around 90 in subsequent tests, compared to an average score of 100 for children whose mothers were deemed to have experienced less stress during pregnancy. Lower IQ level of children is also associated with a higher risk of schizophrenia later in life. Learn more: Stress impact on mother and child during pregnancy. Also - more reading on Lower IQ tied to higher risk of schizophrenia.

For more information on this topic, see our recently updated section:

Preventing Schizophrenia: Stress and Pregnancy - The Importance of Low Stress in Brain Development


Good Books: Important books to help lower stress levels in mothers and children

  • The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook (Good for Mothers-to-be)

  • The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (Good for Mothers-to-be)

  • Parenting From the Inside Out - an excellent new parenting book that we highly recommend. In Parenting from the Inside Out child psychiatrist Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and early childhood educator Mary Hartzell, M. Ed., explore the extent to which our childhood experiences actually do shape the way that we parent. Drawing upon important new findings in neurobiology and attachment research, they explain how interpersonal relationships directly impact the development of the brain, and offer parents a step-by-step approach to forming a deeper understanding of their own life stories that will help them raise compassionate and resilient children." We highly recommend you read this interview with Daniel Siegel: The neuropsychology of the playground

  • What am I feeling, By Dr. John Gottman. A good book (but very short - only 48 pages) to teach parents how to help children express and process emotions in a healthy way - to help them lower their social stress levels and encourage social skills. A good book for parents who want to get a quick understanding of how to help children in their emotional needs, for a better mental health in the long term.
  • How to Raise An Emotionally Intelligent Child, By Dr. John Gottman - a great book that goes into more depth on how to raise a child that has good emotional processing skills and good social skills, thus lowering social stress that he or she encounters (thus potentially lowering the risk of schizophrenia and other mental health disorders).
  • The Magic Years - is an excellent book, written by a professor of psychology at the University of San Francisco Medical School, that covers how parents can moderate the amount of stress and anxiety that a child goes through as they grow from birth through age six. A great "general parenting" book that we think every parent of younger children should read.
  • Another book that may help in training children on how to respond positively to stress is: Helping Children Cope with Stress

Helpful Actions: Women who are pregnant should try to take extra precautions to maintain a low level of stress during the pregancy. Pregnant women should also get plenty of rest, and have strong positive emotional and physical support from the father and others.

Relevant Research (a sample):


















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