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Anxiety During Pregnancy May Lead to Hyperactive Children

In a recent review of more than 3,000 children, scientists linked maternal anxiety to hyperactivity in children. According to the study, children of women who suffer from anxiety during pregnancy or in the first several years of their child’s life are twice as likely to develop symptoms of hyperactivity at age 16.


The findings come from a long-term project involving children in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). The project has allowed U.K. scientists to track the children’s changes in health over time. Physical symptoms of anxiety such as sweating, dizziness and insomnia were reported in 8,727 mothers in the study, between early pregnancy and the fifth birthday of their child. Using this data, researchers classified the mothers’ anxiety levels and divided the women into classes of low, medium or high anxiety.

The scientists then reviewed the children’s performance on attention tests, at age 8.5 and again at age 15. They found no significant link between the child’s performance and the mother’s anxiety levels when testing at age 8.5, however, they did find a link on the children’s attention tests at age 16. A group of 3,199 children showed significant changes in hyperactivity symptoms at age 16, corresponding with how anxious the mother had been.

On average, children with mothers who experienced medium or high anxiety were twice as likely to exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity, compared to those who had mothers with low anxiety. From moderate and high anxiety mothers, 11% of children showed hyperactivity symptoms. From low anxiety mothers, only 5% of children showed hyperactivity symptoms.

Study leader Dr. Blanca Bolea explained, “"This is the first time that a study has shown that anxiety is linked to a child's hyperactivity in later life but that inattention is not linked. One interpretation is that some symptoms of ADHD are associated with the mother's anxiety, but not all of them. More broadly, it shows that the stresses a mother experiences can show up in her child nearly a generation later.”

Bolea added that it’s worth noting that all mothers reported an increase in anxiety during pregnancy. Around 28% showed medium or high anxiety levels, and the rate of hyperactivity more than doubled for their children, compared to mothers who reported low anxiety levels.

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