The role of prenatal maternal stress in the development of childhood anxiety symptomatology: The QF2011 Queensland Flood Study

Dev Psychopathol. 2018 Aug;30(3):995-1007. doi: 10.1017/S0954579418000408.


It is possible that findings suggesting a link between prenatal maternal stress (PNMS) and anxiety symptoms in offspring are confounded by postnatal and/or shared mother-child heritability effects. Following exposure to a natural disaster, the Queensland Flood Study investigated the unique and additive effects of various types of disaster-related PNMS (objective hardship, cognitive appraisal, and subjective distress) on childhood anxiety symptomatology (internalizing and/or anxiety symptom measures). Timing of flood exposure during pregnancy and child sex were examined as potential moderators. After controlling for maternal psychosocial factors, greater objective hardship as a result of the floods was significantly associated with greater anxiety symptoms (N = 114) and marginally associated with greater internalizing behaviors (N = 115). Earlier timing of the flood in pregnancy was associated with greater anxiety symptoms. No such associations were found between any PNMS measure and teacher-rated child internalizing behaviors (N = 90). Sex and timing did not moderate associations. Our findings suggest that, in isolation, increased maternal hardship due to exposure to an independent stressor, during pregnancy, may have a programming effect on childhood anxiety symptoms.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disasters*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Floods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology*
  • Queensland
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*