Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Health & Pregnancy

Font Size

Pregnancy Stress, Schizophrenia Linked?

Severe Stress in First Trimester Could Increase Schizophrenia Risk for Offspring, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 4, 2008 -- Children born to women who suffer the death of a loved one during their first trimester of pregnancy may be at increased risk for developing schizophrenia, new research shows.

The study is not the first to suggest that a mother's psychological state can influence her unborn child's brain development, but it is the largest, involving nearly 1.4 million Danish children followed for decades.

The schizophrenia risk was still quite small in the children of women who experienced the death of a family member early in pregnancy, and the findings need to be confirmed.

But researchers say the study adds to the evidence that severe stress early in pregnancy -- in this case the death of a parent, sibling, spouse, or child -- may negatively impact fetal brain development.

"We did not see this association in the months before pregnancy, or after the first trimester," says study co-author Kathryn M. Abel, PhD, of the University of Manchester.

Stress and Schizophrenia

Abel and colleagues from the University's Center for Women's Mental Health Research examined data from a comprehensive, nationwide Danish health registry, which recorded about 1.38 million births in the country between 1973 and 1995.

The same registry was used to determine if mothers who gave birth during this time had first-degree relatives who died, received a diagnosis of cancer, or had a heart attack or stroke during their pregnancies.

Roughly 22,000 women experienced the death of a close relative during pregnancy, and about 14,000 had a relative treated for a life-threatening illness.

A total of 7,331 schizophrenia cases were identified among Danes born between 1973 and 1995 over at least two decades of follow-up.

Being born to a mother who had a close relative die during her first trimester was found to be associated with a 67% increased risk for schizophrenia.

But a similar death up to six months before conception or at any other time during pregnancy did not appear to elevate risk, nor did having a seriously ill relative during pregnancy.

Abel tells WebMD that the research team plans to repeat the study using the Swedish health registry, which is more than twice the size of the Danish one.

The newly published study appears in the February issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

"We also want to expand the research to look for other mental health outcomes," Abel says. "I think it is highly likely that if we look at a broader spectrum of psychiatric disorders we will find that those are increased as well."

Pregnancy Week-By-Week Newsletter

Delivered right to your inbox, get pictures and facts on
what to expect each week of your pregnancy.

Today on WebMD

hand circling date on calendar
Track your most fertile days.
woman looking at ultrasound
Week-by-week pregnancy guide.
Pretty pregnant woman timing contaction pains
The signs to watch out for.
pregnant woman in hospital
Are there ways to do it naturally?
slideshow fetal development
pregnancy first trimester warning signs
What Causes Bipolar
Woman trying on dress in store
pregnant woman
Woman looking at pregnancy test
calendar and baby buggy
dark chocolate squares