Prenatal anxiety effects: A review

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41 Scopus citations


This review is based on literature on prenatal anxiety effects that was found on Pubmed and PsycINFO for the years 2010–2016. Prenatal anxiety is thought to have distinct features, although it has been measured both by specific prenatal anxiety symptoms as well as by standardized anxiety scales. Its prevalence has ranged from 21 to 25% and it has been predicted by a number of pregnancy – related variables such as unintended pregnancy, demographic variables such as low acculturation and income and psychosocial factors including pessimism and partner tension. Prenatal anxiety effects on pregnancy include increased cortisol levels, pro-inflammatory cytokines, obstetric problems and cesarean section. Effects on the neonate include lower gestational age, prematurity, less insulin-like growth factor in cord blood, less exclusive breast-feeding and less self-regulation during the heelstick procedure. Prenatal anxiety effects continue into infancy and childhood both on physiological development and emotional/mental development. Among the physiological effects are lower vagal activity across the first two years, and lower immunity, more illnesses and reduced gray matter in childhood. Prenatal anxiety effects on emotional/mental development include greater negative emotionality and in infants, lower mental development scores and internalizing problems. Anxiety disorders occur during childhood and elevated cortisol and internalizing behaviors occur during adolescence. Interventions for prenatal anxiety are virtually nonexistent, although stroking (massaging) the infant has moderated the pregnancy – specific anxiety effects on internalizing behaviors in the offspring. The limitations of this literature include the homogeneity of samples, the frequent use of anxiety measures that are not specific to pregnancy, and the reliance on self-report. Nonetheless, the literature highlights the negative, long-term effects of prenatal anxiety and the need for screening and early interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)120-128
Number of pages9
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


  • Prenatal anxiety effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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