Can stress during pregnancy cause motor skill problems in their children?

In everyday life, stress is a thing that will certainly come as a given. For pregnant women, enormous amounts of stress are possible, especially if she already has other kids. These high levels of stress could potentially damage the unborn child in way not known to the mother. According to study, scientists say that high levels of stress in pregnant women can cause coordination problems when their child reaches late childhood/early adolescence. Is this really true? Let’s find out.










In this study, published just three days ago, scientists set out to find if there was a correlation between stress during pregnancy and motor development of the children in their late childhood. To find if there was a correlation, the scientists followed 2,900 Caucasian pregnant women. When the women were 18 months pregnant, they were given a questionnaire which asked them about stressful events that happened during their pregnancies so far. The events asked about included financial hardship, loss of a close friend or relative, and separation or divorce. The participants completed the questionnaire again when they were 34 weeks pregnant. For the second part of this study, the children of those mothers were studied and tested on their motor development and coordination at the ages of 10, 14, and 17 years old. These tests assessed ten different types of movements of the human body including the child’s hand strength, distance jump, walk along a line heel to toe, and stand on one foot. The results of the study found that the children who were born to mothers who experienced more stressful events during their pregnancies scored lower on three motor developments tests than those children who were born to mothers that experienced little to no stressful events during their pregnancies. The scientists say that this correlation may have to do with the development of cerebellar cortex, which is a part of the brain that is developed later in pregnancy process and controls motor outcomes.

I think that this study is an exceptional one because of how detailed and diligent the scientists were. The scientists did an experiment where they measured the same thing multiple times, which eliminates errors. In this case, the researchers gave the questionnaire to the pregnant women twice, and studied the children with the same test three times. Although the study was done diligently, the room for error in this study comes from the efforts of the pregnant women and their children. When given the survey, it is possible that the pregnant women inaccurately stated the number of stressful events they experienced over the course of their pregnancies. Also, the children given the tests could have not given their best efforts in the motor skills test, which would botch the results. The children could have gotten fed up from doing the extensive test three times in their lives. Also, children at the age of 17 usually don’t do things they don’t want to do, so they may have just gone through the motions of the tests instead of giving their best efforts.

In another study published in science direct, the meta-analysis referenced a study done on animals that found the same correlation. In this study, Rats and Monkeys went through various amounts of stress during their pregnancies, and their offspring was exhibited delayed motor development.  This study does show the same correlation, but it shows it in animals, not humans. We most likely will never know if pregnant rats and monkeys go through the same pregnancy process as humans, so we cannot say that this study is just like the previous one, but it does make the correlation stronger.









Undoubtedly, undergoing stress is a bad thing for pregnant women, let alone any human. There have been studies that have determined that there are many other effects stress can have on unborn babies, and these studies are just another reason to believe that pregnant mothers should avoid stress at all costs if they want to have a healthy baby.



3 thoughts on “Can stress during pregnancy cause motor skill problems in their children?

  1. Shannon Elizabeth Kress

    I agree with the previous comment that I was intrigued because of the study being so recent! I immediately thought about how pregnant women should deal with the stress, because realistically they will face some stressing during their pregnancies. Here is a link of how women can avoid stress during pregnancy. I think this is something that should be talked about more in the public eye, because it seems important.

  2. Walt

    Most of us have probably heard about the physical effects that we personally experience from stress, but I never thought of those effects on a fetus. I looked into the subject further and found an interesting study which finds a direct correlation between a mother’s antenatal anxiety and behavioral/emotional problems of a toddler. This was an observational study and it is possibly that the results are a fluke. The only way to know if this was true would be to conduct many similar studies and have a meta-analysis. It would be rather quite difficult and likely unethical to cause antenatal anxiety in a mother to see if her children will have behavioral or emotional problems.

  3. Emily Josephine Engle

    This blog stood out to me because the first study was so recent. It made me want to continue to read about it because of it being so new. Stress when a woman is pregnant can also cause high blood pressure. This can cause premature birth and/or a low birth-rate infant. Premature birth is the leading cause of infant death and can also cause long-term disabilities. This goes along with your blog about stress during pregnancy effecting motor skills, because it supports the hypothesis.

    More information about preterm labor and stress:

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