New evidence suggests that severe emotional stress during early pregnancy can cause congenital malformations.
Over a period of 12 years, Danish researchers studied 3560 pregnancies during which the mother was subjected to extreme stress. These were compared with a group of more than 20,000 controls.
What they found was that the risk of malformation, particularly those involving the cranial neural crest, were most prevalent when the mother had been exposed to severe stress prenatally. Women in the stressed group were more than one and a half times more likely to give birth to a baby with a malformation in the cranial neural crest. Other malformations were also higher in the stressed group, but not significantly so.
Of all the severe stressors, the death of a child during the first trimester was most influential.
The study does not suggest that stress is the only cause of malformation. However, its results add to a growing body of research that suggests that the health of the mother both physically and emotionally is influential, or even vital, to the health of the baby (Lancet, 2000; 356: 875-80).