Maternal Anxiety During and After Pregnancy: Effects on Child Internalizing Behaviour
Background: Anxiety during pregnancy can have significant effects on both a developing fetus and long-term developmental outcomes. In animal and human models, prenatal anxiety has been associated with characteristics of inhibited temperament in infants, which may be a precursor to later anxiety disorders. This pilot study examined if maternal report of anxiety during pregnancy differentially explained preschool-aged children’s internalizing behaviour over and above a mother’s trait anxiety. In addition, using multi-reporter methodology, the study examined if maternal anxiety during pregnancy predicted multiple reporters’ ratings of child internalizing behaviour.
Method: Participants in this pilot study included preschool-aged children, their mothers, and teachers. Retrospective maternal anxiety during pregnancy, current maternal anxiety and multi-reporter ratings of children’s internalizing behaviour were assessed.
Results: In a sample of 46 mothers, their preschool children, and the children’s teachers, hierarchical multiple regression analyses indicated that after controlling for a mother’s current level of anxiety, maternal anxiety during pregnancy significantly predicted children’s internalizing behaviour as reported by their mothers, but not as reported by teachers or other observers.
Conclusion: The prenatal environment may have a significant effect on child internalizing over time. Findings also suggest that mothers may be the most reliable reporters of child behaviour because of an overarching knowledge of the child’s behaviour across contexts.