- Scientists have claimed domestic abuse can affect unborn children
- The study suggests children in the first year of their life are influenced by emotional and behavioural trauma experienced by their mother
- Symptoms include nightmares and having trouble experiencing enjoyment
- The study included 182 mothers aged between 18 and 34
- ‘I think these findings send a strong message that the violence is affecting the baby even before it born,’ said the researchers
When a woman is a victim of domestic violence while pregnant, it can leave a lasting effect on the unborn child, according to research.
A Michigan-led study is the first to link abuse of pregnant women with emotional and behavioural trauma symptoms in children within the first year of their life.
Symptoms experienced by the children include nightmares, startling easily, being bothered by loud noises and bright lights, avoiding physical contact and having trouble experiencing enjoyment.
Michigan State University scientists have claimed domestic abuse can affect unborn children. The study found a ‘surprisingly strong’ relationship between a mother’s prenatal abuse by a male partner and postnatal trauma symptoms in their children during the first year of their life (stock image shown)
The research was carried out by scientists from Michigan State University.
‘For clinicians and mothers, knowing that the prenatal experience of their domestic violence can directly harm their babies may be a powerful motivator to help moms get out of these abusive situations,’ said Dr Alytia Levendosky, psychology professor and study co-author.
The study of 182 mothers, aged between 18 and 34, found a ‘surprisingly strong’ relationship between a mother’s prenatal abuse by a male partner and postnatal trauma symptoms in her child.
ARE NUMERICAL SKILLS ALSO DECIDED IN THE WOMB?
Earlier this year, research linked a woman’s hormone levels in pregnancy with her child’s maths skills at age five.
Boys and girls whose mothers were very low in the hormone thyroxine were almost twice as likely to do badly in arithmetic tests, it found.
Thyroxine, which passes from mother to baby in the womb, is crucial for the development of the brain – but many expectant mothers have too little of it.
Researcher Martijn Finken studied almost 1,200 children from when they were in the womb until they started school.
He measured their mothers’ thyroxine levels 12 weeks into pregnancy and compared the results with the children’s scores in arithmetic and language tests at age five.
Those who were exposed to the lowest levels of thyroxine in the womb were 90% more likely to be in the bottom half of the class for maths.
The researchers examined the women’s parenting styles and also took into account risk factors such as drug use and other negative life events, marital status, age and income.
Dr Levendosky said prenatal abuse could cause changes in the mother’s stress response systems, increasing her levels of the hormone cortisol, which in turn could increase cortisol levels in the fetus.
‘Cortisol is a neurotoxic, so it has damaging effects on the brain when elevated to excessive levels,’ Dr Levendosky said.
‘That might explain the emotional problems for the baby after birth.’
A clinical psychologist for nearly 20 years, Dr Levendosky has counselled domestic violence survivors who didn’t believe the abuse would affect their child until the child was old enough to understand what was going on.
‘They might say things like, “Oh, I have to leave my partner when my baby gets to be so-and-so age – you know, three or four years old – but until then, you know, it’s not really affecting him, he won’t really remember it,”‘ she said.
‘But I think these findings send a strong message that the violence is affecting the baby even before the baby is born.’
Postnatal trauma symptoms include nightmares and having trouble experiencing enjoyment. The study included 182 mothers aged between 18 and 34. ‘I think these findings send a strong message that the violence is affecting the baby even before the baby is born,’ said the researchers (stock image shown)