Anxiety, depression and stress in pregnancy: implications for mothers, children, research, and practice

Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2012 Mar;25(2):141-8. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e3283503680.


Purpose of review: To briefly review results of the latest research on the contributions of depression, anxiety, and stress exposures in pregnancy to adverse maternal and child outcomes, and to direct attention to new findings on pregnancy anxiety, a potent maternal risk factor.

Recent findings: Anxiety, depression, and stress in pregnancy are risk factors for adverse outcomes for mothers and children. Anxiety in pregnancy is associated with shorter gestation and has adverse implications for fetal neurodevelopment and child outcomes. Anxiety about a particular pregnancy is especially potent. Chronic strain, exposure to racism, and depressive symptoms in mothers during pregnancy are associated with lower birth weight infants with consequences for infant development. These distinguishable risk factors and related pathways to distinct birth outcomes merit further investigation.

Summary: This body of evidence, and the developing consensus regarding biological and behavioral mechanisms, sets the stage for a next era of psychiatric and collaborative interdisciplinary research on pregnancy to reduce the burden of maternal stress, depression, and anxiety in the perinatal period. It is critical to identify the signs, symptoms, and diagnostic thresholds that warrant prenatal intervention and to develop efficient, effective and ecologically valid screening and intervention strategies to be used widely.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Developmental Disabilities / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*