Meta-analytic findings of the relation between maternal prenatal stress and anxiety and child cognitive outcome

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2014 Jan;35(1):38-43. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000003.


Objective: Different studies have revealed mixed findings regarding the relation between maternal prenatal stress or anxiety (MPSA) and early child cognitive outcome. Different methodological considerations may be linked to the absence of clear support for this hypothesized link. The purpose of this article was to conduct a meta-analysis of this relation while considering the following as potential moderators: (1) pregnancy trimester during which MPSA was assessed, (2) type of MPSA assessment (life events, pregnancy related, subjective assessments), and (3) research design (retrospective or prospective). Other moderators were also examined: child age at assessment and the year of publication.

Method: Eleven studies were identified (N = 5903) that examined the relation between MPSA and early child cognitive outcome.

Results: A small effect size of r = -.05 was found for this relation. The effect size varied across studies and was significantly moderated by the manner in which MPSA was operationalized (events, subjective assessment of stress or pregnancy-related stress or anxiety) and by whether MPSA assessment took place before or after infant birth. Greater relations to child cognitive outcome were found for postnatal event-based indicators of MPSA.

Conclusion: The relation between MPSA and child cognitive outcome seems to be present, but low. Moreover, it is affected by the specific choices made by researchers in the manner in which constructs are operationalized.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Stress, Psychological*