MONTREAL, June 2, 2014 /CNW Telbec/ - A new study finds a link between prenatal maternal stress (PNMS) and the
development of symptoms of asthma and autism in children.
A team of scientists from The Douglas Mental Health University Institute
and from McGill University has been studying women who were pregnant
during the January 1998 Quebec ice storm since June of that year and
observing effects of their stress on their children's development
(Project Ice Storm).The team examined the degree to which the mothers'
objective degree of hardship from the storm and their subjective degree
of distress explained differences among the women's children in
asthma-like symptoms and in autism-like traits.
Results reported in the journal Psychiatry Research show that the greater the mothers' objective hardship from the ice
storm (such as more days without electricity), and the greater the
mothers' distress about the ice storm 5 months later, the more severe
their children's autistic-like traits at 6½ years of age.
The team emphasizes that the children in Project Ice Storm are not autistic; the results describe normal variations among children.
These traits include difficulty making friends, being clumsy, speaking
in odd ways, etc. The effect of the mothers' ice storm stress was
especially strong when the ice storm happened in the first trimester of
pregnancy. Interestingly, the children with the most severe symptoms
had mothers who had had high levels of hardship from the ice storm but
low levels of distress.
"We have found effects of the mothers' objective hardship from the ice
storm (such as the number of days without electricity), or their degree
of distress from the storm, on every aspect of child development that
we have studied, said Suzanne King, PhD, the senior author of the
paper. This is surprising, since the children in our study are mostly
from upper class families and are generally doing extremely well in
school and in life."
In May, the team reported in the journal Biomedical Research International that girls whose mothers had had high levels of distress after the ice
storm were more likely to have experienced wheezing, to have been
diagnosed with asthma by a doctor, and to have been prescribed asthma
medication before the age of 12. There was no effect in boys, and there
was no effect of the mothers' objective hardship.
These results demonstrate the power of a stressor in pregnancy to
influence both the physical development and the mental health of the
unborn child. Project Ice Storm continues to follow the children's
development, including brain MRI scans at the age of 16 years starting
"If the stress of the ice storm could have such large effects on these
children, helping to explain why some are sicker than others or have
more atypical development than others, added Suzanne King, how much
greater would the effects be with an even more stressful event in
pregnancy or in disadvantaged families with fewer resources? Our
research is showing us how vulnerable the unborn child is to his
mother's environment and her mood."
About Project Ice Storm:
When the ice storms of January 1998 plunged more than 3 million
Quebecers into darkness for as long as 45 days, the team seized the
opportunity to study the effects of stress on pregnant women, their
pregnancies, and their unborn children. It has been following a group
of about 150 families, in which the mother was pregnant during the ice
storm or became pregnant shortly thereafter, in order to observe the
immediate effects of different levels and types of stress on the unborn
children. It continues to follow these children who are now teenagers.
Among the team of scientists who conducted this study are Suzanne King,
and Alain Brunet, from the Psychosocial Research Division of the
Douglas Mental Health University Institute and from the Department of
Psychiatry, (Faculty of Medicine) at McGill University, as well as
David P Laplante also from the Douglas Institute. The results of this
work have been published in the journals Biomedical Research
International (asthma, May 8) and Psychiatry Research (autism, June).
Project Ice Storm is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health
About the Douglas Institute - www.douglas.qc.ca
The Douglas Institute is a world-class institute affiliated with McGill
University and the World Health Organization. It treats people
suffering from mental illness and offers them both hope and healing.
Its teams of specialists and researchers are constantly increasing
scientific knowledge, integrating this knowledge into patient care, and
sharing it with the community in order to educate the public and
eliminate prejudices surrounding mental health.
SOURCE: Douglas Mental Health University Institute
For further information:
Communications and Public Affairs Directorate
Douglas Mental Health University Institute
Dobell Pav.- 6875 LaSalle Blvd., B-2122 - Montreal, QC H4H 1R3
T. 514-761-6131, ext. 2769