Prenatal maternal stress affects motor function in 5½-year-old children: project ice storm

Dev Psychobiol. 2014 Jan;56(1):117-25. doi: 10.1002/dev.21085. Epub 2012 Nov 9.


Evidence suggests that prenatal maternal stress (PNMS) has long-term effects on several outcomes, yet effects on neuromotor function are relatively unknown. We aimed to determine whether disaster-related PNMS predicts motor functioning in young children and whether timing of exposure and sex of the child moderate these effects. Objective and subjective PNMS levels were assessed among pregnant women exposed to a natural disaster. Their children's bilateral coordination, balance, and visual motor integration (VMI) were assessed at 5½ years. Girls performed better than boys. Objective stress exposure and subjective distress interacted such that when subjective distress was high, no added effect of objective hardship was observed; when subjective distress was low, objective hardship showed a negative effect. In girls, late pregnancy exposure was associated with poorer outcomes. In conclusion, disaster-related PNMS is associated with relatively lower motor functions in exposed offspring. Exposure timing, sex, and type of stress influenced the effects.

Keywords: motor function; natural disaster; prenatal maternal stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disasters
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / physiology
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*