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Effects of maternal anxiety and depression on fetal neuro-development

Reissland, N.; Froggatt, S.; Reames, E.; Girkin, J.

Effects of maternal anxiety and depression on fetal neuro-development Thumbnail


S. Froggatt

E. Reames


Background: Fetal development is affected by maternal mental health with research indicating that maternal anxiety and depression are co-morbid; nevertheless differential effects on the fetus have been found. This study examines, prenatally, effects of maternal stress, anxiety and depression on fetal eye-blink reactions to experimental sound and light stimulation. Methods: Two groups of singleton fetuses (mean 32-weeks gestation) were examined using 4D ultrasound: a control group (N= 14, 7 female) with no stimulation and an experimental group (N=21, 13 female) exposed to experimental sound, light and cross-modal stimulation. For both groups ultrasound scans were performed and fetal eye-blink was assessed. Mothers completed the Hospital-Anxiety-and-Depression Scale and the Perceived-Stress Scale. Analysis was carried out using Poisson mixed effects modelling. Results: Fetal eye-blink rate during experimental stimulation was significantly and differentially associated with maternal mental health with a 20% increase of fetal eye-blink rate for each unit increase in anxiety score (p=0.02) and a decrease of 21% of eye blink rate for each unit of increase in depression score (p=0.02). Sound stimulation but not light stimulation significantly affected blink-rate with fetuses habituating to the stimuli (p<0.001). Limitations: Limitations are the relatively small number of fetuses and that a follow up after birth is essential to establish potential long-term effects. Conclusions: Of clinical importance is the finding that although fetuses are affected by maternal mental health in general here we demonstrate, using eye-blink-rate during stimulation as measure of neuro-development, that fetuses are differentially affected by maternal anxiety and depression with anxiety increasing and depression decreasing fetal reactivity significantly.


Reissland, N., Froggatt, S., Reames, E., & Girkin, J. (2018). Effects of maternal anxiety and depression on fetal neuro-development. Journal of Affective Disorders, 241, 469-474.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 12, 2018
Online Publication Date Aug 13, 2018
Publication Date Dec 1, 2018
Deposit Date Aug 14, 2018
Publicly Available Date Aug 13, 2019
Journal Journal of Affective Disorders
Print ISSN 0165-0327
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 241
Pages 469-474


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