Children whose mothers suffered from a significant amount of stress during pregnancy may experience difficulties in the development of their motor skills, according to new research conducted by scientists in Australia.

While earlier studies have shown how stress experienced by pregnant mothers impacts the mental, cognitive and behavioral development of children, only a small number of research has explored the link between pregnancy stress and child motor development.

In a study featured in the journal Child Development, researchers from the Telethon Kids Institute and the University of Notre Dame Australia examined data collected from 2,900 mothers in Australia, who were mostly of Caucasian descent, in order to test the connection between maternal stress and the motor development of children.

Assessment of Mothers and Children

During the participants' 18th week of pregnancy, they were asked to answer a set of questions regarding stressful events they have experienced while they were pregnant. Events mentioned in the questionnaire include losing a job, experiencing financial difficulties and having to move residences.

The same questionnaire was given to the mothers when they reached their 34th week of pregnancy.

The researchers also assessed the overall motor skills and coordination development of children (born of the pregnancies observed) when they reached 10, 14 and 17 years old.

The team made use of a 10-item test for movement to measure the children's hand strength. They also assessed the ability of the children to use one finger to touch their nose and back to their index finger, and complete a distance jump, use their heel and toe to walk along a line and stand on only one foot.

The children were also tested for their ability to thread beads onto a rod, transfer beads from one box to another, tap one of their fingers for more than 10 seconds, turn a single nut into a bolt and slide a rod along a bar as slowly as they can.

Children born to mothers who did not experience stressful events during their pregnancies were grouped together and those born to mothers who experienced less than three stressful events while pregnant were also turned separated into another group.

The researchers also created a third group consisting of children born to moms who suffered from three or more stressful events while they were still pregnant.

Impact of Stress on Motor Development in Children

The team discovered that the offspring of mothers who suffered from more stressful events during pregnancy had a lower score regarding their motor skills development in all three survey years. This could pertain to an accumulative impact of stress on the development of the children's motor system while they were still in their mothers' wombs.

The most significant differences in the outcomes of motor development were observed between participants whose mothers did not experience stress and those who suffered from a high amount of stress.

The findings show that stressful events that occurred during the later stages of pregnancy impacted the children's scores in motor development compared to events that occurred later in their lives. The scientists believe this could be related the development of the children's cerebellar cortex, which is the part of an individual's brain that controls motor outcomes.

People with less developed motor skills typically suffer from poor short-term and long-term physical and mental health, making early risk factor assessment necessary to provide timely support and intervention.

Children who suffer from low competence in their motor skills can experience difficulties in carrying out simple motor tasks in their everyday lives, including running, throwing and writing. However, this can be improved through intervention and support.

Photo: Raúl Hernández González | Flickr 

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