Impact of maternal stress, depression and anxiety on fetal neurobehavioral development

Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Sep;52(3):425-40. doi: 10.1097/GRF.0b013e3181b52df1.


Although postnatal psychologic distress has been widely studied for many years, particularly with a focus on postpartum depression, symptoms of maternal depression, stress, and anxiety are not more common or severe after childbirth than during pregnancy. This paper reviews the newer body of research aimed at identifying the effects of women's antenatal psychologic distress on fetal behavior and child development, and the biologic pathways for this influence. These studies are in line with the growing body of literature supporting the "fetal origins hypothesis" that prenatal environmental exposures--including maternal psychologic state-based alterations in in utero physiology--can have sustained effects across the lifespan.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Heart Rate, Fetal / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*