Severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy: psychiatric and cognitive problems and brain structure in children

BMC Med. 2020 Sep 1;18(1):228. doi: 10.1186/s12916-020-01701-y.


Background: Two studies have suggested that severe prolonged nausea and vomiting during pregnancy is associated with emotional and behavioral problems in offspring, with smaller sample size and short-term follow-up. Moreover, little information is available on the role of the brain structure in the associations.

Methods: In a US-based cohort, the association was investigated between severe prolonged nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (extending after the second trimester and termed SNVP), psychiatric and cognitive problems, and brain morphology, from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, from 10,710 children aged 9-11 years. We validated the emotional including psychiatric findings using the Danish National Cohort Study with 2,092,897 participants.

Results: SNVP was significantly associated with emotional and psychiatric problems (t = 8.89, Cohen's d = 0.172, p = 6.9 × 10-19) and reduced global cognitive performance (t = - 4.34, d = - 0.085, p = 1.4 × 10-5) in children. SNVP was associated with low cortical area and volume, especially in the cingulate cortex, precuneus, and superior medial prefrontal cortex. These lower cortical areas and volumes significantly mediated the relation between SNVP and the psychiatric and cognitive problems in children. In the Danish National Cohort, severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy were significantly associated with increased risks of behavioral and emotional disorders in children (hazard ratio, 1.24; 95% confidence interval, 1.16-1.33).

Conclusions: SNVP is strongly associated with psychiatric and cognitive problems in children, with mediation by brain structure. These associations highlight the clinical importance and potential benefits of the treatment of SNVP, which could reduce the risk of psychiatric disorder in the next generation.

Keywords: Cingulate cortex; Cognitive performance; Cortical structure; Nausea and vomiting; Precuneus; Psychiatric problems; Superior medial prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / genetics
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Mental Disorders / genetics
  • Nausea / etiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology*
  • Vomiting / etiology*