Maternal life events during pregnancy and offspring language ability in middle childhood: The Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort Study

Early Hum Dev. 2010 Aug;86(8):487-92. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2010.06.009. Epub 2010 Jul 10.


Background: There is accumulating evidence for a link between maternal stress during pregnancy and later behavioural and emotional problems in children. Little research has examined other developmental outcomes.

Aim: To determine the effect of maternal stress during pregnancy on offspring language ability in middle childhood.

Study design: Longitudinal pregnancy cohort-study.

Subjects: A total of 2900 mothers were recruited prior to the 18th week of pregnancy, delivering 2868 live births. The language ability of just under half of the offspring cohort (n=1309; 45.6% of original sample) was assessed in middle childhood (Mean age=10;7, Standard deviation=0;2, range: 9;5-11;11).

Outcome measures: Language ability was measured using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised (PPVT-R). The main predictor variable was the frequency of 10 typically 'stressful' life events experienced by mothers during early and/or late pregnancy. Children were allocated to four groups according to whether they were exposed to high maternal stress (>or=2 life events) during early pregnancy only, late pregnancy only, both, or neither.

Results: Mixed-effects regression analyses revealed no association between the maternal experience of two or more stressful life events at any time-point during pregnancy and PPVT-R scores. Repeating the regression analyses with more lenient (>or=1 life events) or strict (>or=3 life events) thresholds for defining high-levels of maternal stress did not alter the pattern of findings.

Conclusions: Maternal experience of typically stressful life events during pregnancy has a negligible effect on vocabulary development to middle childhood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Development*
  • Life Change Events*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires