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Health & Pregnancy

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Pregnancy Stress, Schizophrenia Linked?

Severe Stress in First Trimester Could Increase Schizophrenia Risk for Offspring, Study Shows

Some Stress May Be Good

Developmental psychologist Janet DiPietro, PhD, who also studies the impact of maternal stress on fetal brain development, says even if major traumatic events such as the death of a loved one do influence schizophrenia risk, the risk is still very small.

Having a family history of schizophrenia or another mental illness was associated with a much larger risk, in this study and in others.

DiPietro says much of the research linking pregnancy stress to negative outcomes has focused on early child development and relied on mothers' perceptions of their children's behavior.

"The problem is that mothers who are more anxious and stressed are more likely to view their child as having behavioral problems," she says.

In her own 2006 study, in which child behavior was independently assessed, moderate stress during pregnancy was actually associated with a good outcome -- advanced development at age 2.

One possible reason for this is that the chemicals the body produces in response to stress also play a role in fetal maturation, she tells WebMD.

DiPietro is associate dean for research and a professor at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

"The knee-jerk reaction is to think that all stress is bad, but this may not be so in pregnancy," she says. "The fetus is not as vulnerable as we may think to the day-to-day stresses women deal with, like working and meeting deadlines."

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