Maternal thyroid hormone trajectories during pregnancy and child behavioral problems

Horm Behav. 2017 Aug:94:84-92. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2017.06.007. Epub 2017 Jul 11.


There is ample evidence demonstrating the importance of maternal thyroid hormones, assessed at single trimesters in pregnancy, for child cognition. Less is known, however, about the course of maternal thyroid hormone concentrations during pregnancy in relation to child behavioral development. Child sex might be an important moderator, because there are sex differences in externalizing and internalizing behavioral problems. The current study examined the associations between maternal thyroid hormone trajectories versus thyroid assessments at separate trimesters of pregnancy and child behavioral problems, as well as sex differences in these associations. In 442 pregnant mothers, serum levels of TSH and free T4 (fT4) were measured at 12, 24, and 36weeks gestation. Both mothers and fathers reported on their children's behavioral problems, between 23 and 60months of age. Latent growth mixture modeling was used to determine the number of different thyroid hormone trajectories. Three trajectory groups were discerned: 1) highest and non-increasing TSH with lowest fT4 that decreased least of the three trajectories; 2) increasing TSH and decreasing fT4 at intermediate levels; 3) lowest and increasing TSH with highest and decreasing fT4. Children of mothers with the most flattened thyroid hormone trajectories (trajectory 1) showed the most anxiety/depression symptoms. The following trimester-specific associations were found: 1) lower first-trimester fT4 was associated with more child anxiety/depression, 2) higher first-trimester TSH levels were related to more attention problems in boys only. A flattened course of maternal thyroid hormone concentrations during pregnancy was a better predictor of child anxiety/depression than first-trimester fT4 levels.

Keywords: Behavioral problems; Children; Longitudinal; Pregnancy; Sex difference; Thyroid.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child Behavior Disorders / blood
  • Child Behavior Disorders / etiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mothers*
  • Pregnancy / blood*
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First / blood
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / blood
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology*
  • Problem Behavior*
  • Thyroid Hormones / blood*


  • Thyroid Hormones