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Anxiety During Pregnancy Increases ADHD Risk

Study Links Exposure in the Womb to Developmental Problems Years Later

Blaming Mom

Van den Bergh says pregnant women should do all they can to reduce the stresses and anxiety in their lives, especially early in their pregnancies. While the findings could produce even more anxiety among women who worry that worrying will damage their unborn babies, the researcher says she hopes it will lead to the development of better strategies for dealing with stress during pregnancy.

Obstetrician and longtime fetal development researcher Peter Nathanielsz, MD, PhD, says placing the burden of reducing stress on the mother-to-be will not work. Nathanielsz's well-publicized studies show that environmental exposures in the womb are associated with many health problems later in life including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

"I've been taken to task by people who say my research lays too much blame on the mom, but that is not it at all," Nathanielsz says. "The womb is the first environment we experience, and we pass more biological milestones before we are born than we will ever pass again. We can leave it to the mother to deal with stress or we can rightly recognize that this is a societal problem that has to be addressed by all of us."

Duke University obstetrics and psychiatry professor Diana Dell, MD, agrees that simply telling women to reduce the stress in their lives during pregnancy isn't enough. Dell is a spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

"Women are already under enormous pressure to make perfect babies, so instead of blaming moms under stress we need to figure out how to best protect moms and babies from stress and anxiety," she says.

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