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Mother’s loss of loved one during pregnancy affects child’s mental health

  • Stanford University conducted a study on how a mother’s loss during pregnancy will affect their unborn child.
  • Maternal stress will lead to adverse effect on the infant’s mental health later in life.

A paper that was published in the American Economic Review recently reveals the adverse effect death could have on a fetus. The research was done by professionals at the Stanford University. In a nutshell, the report shows that a mother’s loss of a loved one will affect the unborn child. Of course, that is on top of the stress and grief the mother faces herself. In fact, this increases the risk of mental health problems for the child in the long run.

The study was conducted on Swedish nationals who were born between the year of 1973 and 2011. The mother of these children had experienced a loss during their pregnancy terms. It was mainly the death of a close relative of some sort. Some of which includes the mother’s parents, grandparents, brothers or sisters, her existing children and even the unborn child’s father.

The subjects of the study were observed throughout the course of their lives, from an infant to an adult. A juxtaposition of these people’s mental health was subsequently made with those whose mother suffered a loss in the family after they were born.

The study concludes with an analysis of the way losing one’s loved one could negatively affect the fetus. Many factors were taken into account. Some of which includes the way these passing have led to a change in the household composition as well as the household income. While it may be counterintuitive, but these occurrences will no doubt increase the mother’s stress level. This, in turn, leads to adverse effects on the fetus. This is because, they are, at that time a piece of a whole.

A statement from the final report states that “prenatal exposure to the death of a maternal relative increases take-up of ADHD medications during childhood and anti-anxiety and depression medications in adulthood.”

Throughout the duration of the study, they collected the medical records of the subjects. In addition, they also kept tabs on the novel prescription drug registry in Sweden. That alone reveals the information of purchases of prescription drugs of all sorts.

The report further articulates:

“Our study offers complementary evidence linking early-life circumstance to adult mental health, but breaks new ground by focusing on stress, which may be more pertinent than malnutrition in modern developed countries such as the United States and Sweden, and by tracing health outcomes throughout the time period between the fetal shock and adulthood.”

On top of that, the researchers found that the passing of family members up to three generations apart is also a common element that is found in the study.

We know that a death of a loved one will undoubtedly lead to an endless cycle of grief and sorrow. Nonetheless, it seems inequitable for a fetus to be held responsible later in life. Hence, professionals are now looking for a way to get around it. However, the researchers have expressed that it is easier said than done.

“Of course, you cannot prevent family members from dying, and we certainly do not want our findings to constitute yet another source of stress for expecting mothers.”

Indeed, we cannot prevent deaths, and what’s more is that we cannot deny the mother the basic freedom of expression. It is simply not possible to stop one from grieving the death of a close family member. Nonetheless, what we can do, is to provide mental support. The researchers further explain the rightful approach.

“But our findings potentially point to the importance of generally reducing stress during pregnancy, for example through prenatal paid maternity leave and programs that provide resources and social support to poor, pregnant women.”

It seems that the researchers are now turning to the legal authorities for assistance. By implementing official policies, it increases the accessibility for mothers to look for support. This, in turn, helps to prevent the infant to face mental health challenges later in life. This is especially helpful for those who are affected by changes in household resources and are in need of financial support. By providing financial and mental support, the mother will have less burden followed by a reduction in stress levels.

Featured image via flickr/ Teza Harinaivo Ramiandrisoa

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