Stay Up to Date! Subscribe via email:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Friday, June 10, 2011

Continued Exposure to Maternal Distress in Early Life is Associated with an Increased Risk of Childhood Asthma

Evidence is emerging that a mother’s stress in early life plays a role in the development of childhood asthma. Increase in chronic stress of women has matched the rising rate of asthma in the Western world. Stress is a well-known cause of worsening asthma in children. Research suggests that a mother’s stress in early life may lead to the development of asthma in kids. Parenting difficulties in the first year of life have been associated with asthma at ages 6-8.

A child’s nervous and immune system reacts to stress in a way that increases the development of asthma.  These stress responses are exaggerated in children if the mother’s stress was present when she was pregnant. Others have identified that depression in a mother, is especially “toxic” and can lead to the development of asthma. Depressed mothers demonstrate less affection and fewer responses to infant cues. Their infants spend more time fussing and crying, and exhibit more stress behaviours compared with infants of mothers who are not depressed.

Our research questions:
  • Does a mother’s stress increase the chances of a child developing asthma? 

  • Is this different for children who are more prone to getting asthma (because of someone in the family has asthma) compared to children who are not?

Findings: The SAGE Study assessed the risk of asthma at age 7 in relation to their mother’s level of stress in the first year of life and onward.

  • Among the 13, 907 children born in Manitoba in 1995, 18.9% were exposed to significant maternal distress during their first year of life.

  • 8.3% of the children who were exposed to a lot of maternal stress during the first year of life had asthma at 7 years of age. Only 6.2% of the children who were not exposed to maternal stress had asthma. Seventy-five percent of children with asthma received their first diagnosis of asthma after the age of one year.

  • A mother’s stress did increase the rate of asthma in childhood.  The more stress the mother had, the higher the risk to the child. The children most at risk were those whose mothers had long term stress. These children had 1.6 times higher risk of asthma at age 7 years.

Children whose mother had short term stress (for example only during the first few months after birth) were NOT at an increased risk of having asthma.

  • A mother having asthma, being a boy, living in the city, and the number of times a child had to see a doctor were all associated with a higher risk for asthma in children. 

Having more children in the family was associated with a lower risk of asthma.

  • Even children whose mothers did NOT have asthma, had a higher risk of developing asthma if their mother was under significant prolonged stress during their first years of life.

Conclusion:. Exposure to long term maternal stress, starting from birth, is associated with an increased risk of getting asthma for kids.  The possible reasons for this are complex. More research needs to be done to better understand this relationship.

Current asthma at age 7 was defined as at least two physician visits for asthma, one asthma hospitalization, or two prescriptions for any asthma drug in the year after the child’s 7th birthday.

Maternal distress was determined on the basis of physician visits, hospitalizations, or prescription medications for depression or anxiety during the first year of life and afterward. 

To see the original research article, see:
Continued exposure to maternal distress in early life is associated with an increased risk of childhood asthma. Kozyrskyj AL, Mai XM, McGrath P, Hayglass KT, Becker AB, Macneil B. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2008 Jan 15;177(2):142-7. Epub 2007 Oct 11.