New psychology study finds adverse childhood experiences transfer from one generation to the next

June 27, 2017 by Heath Mccoy
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Women who suffer four or more adverse childhood experiences before the age of 18 are more likely to face pregnancy and postpartum problems, which they may in turn pass on to their children in a "cascade of risk," according to a new study in the Journal of Pediatrics.

The study, led by the University of Calgary's Sheri Madigan—Canada Research Chair in the Determinants of Child Development, a member of the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute and an assistant professor in psychology—finds that who report having experienced early adversity are two times more likely to suffer pregnancy problems, such as gestational diabetes and hypertension. These mothers are also five times more likely to endure postnatal psychological challenges, such as postpartum depression and marital conflict.

The adverse childhood experiences include such factors as having a parent with mental illness or an alcohol/drug problem, witnessing parental conflict and/or suffering from sexual, physical or emotional abuse.

Negative outcomes for the children of mothers who have experienced childhood adversity can include poor physical health, as well as depression and anxiety later in life.

"Our research demonstrates that a mother's early history can start a cascade of risks that transfers from one generation to the next, impacting her infant's health and development," says Madigan.

"These negative experiences tend to cluster together and it almost becomes a perfect storm. We can identify the various traumas and, when you look at them individually, they're not all significant predictors of risks. But we've found there's a tipover point where four or more adverse experiences tend to be associated with a greater likelihood of experiencing pregnancy and postnatal problems for the mother, and health and emotional problems for the child."

Madigan says it's important to better understand the factors that link the childhood traumas of mothers to problematic prenatal and postnatal outcomes, because this knowledge can aid in finding interventions that might effectively "break the cycle of cascading risks.

"If we want to break this continuity of risks across generations, the first target of intervention is to make primary care practitioners, who have the most frequent contact with and children, comfortable with having open dialogues about the impacts of early adversity with their patients," Madigan says. "It's important that primary care practitioners talk about how early adversity can have a spillover effect on our health as adults, including our reproductive health, as well as our physical and mental health."

She adds: "When we can identify this link and openly talk about it in a supportive environment it can lead to greater awareness, and suggestions for how to cope with these adversities can be made. Referrals for additional support, such as interventions, can be made to reduce the burden of early . These, in turn, will help the children's health and development."

Explore further: Adverse events affect children's development, physical health and biology

More information: Sheri Madigan et al. Maternal Adverse Childhood Experience and Infant Health: Biomedical and Psychosocial Risks as Intermediary Mechanisms, The Journal of Pediatrics (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.04.052

Related Stories

Adverse events affect children's development, physical health and biology

October 21, 2016
It's known that adverse childhood experiences carry over into adult life, but a new study is focusing on the effect of these experiences in the childhood years.

Stable relationships protect kids from toxic trauma and stress

May 31, 2017
Parents are often reminded to keep harmful substances out of their child's reach. But what if a child's experiences at home were as toxic to their health as household solvents and cleaners?

How childhood trauma can affect mental and physical health into adulthood

May 24, 2017
For millions of children in the U.S., poverty, neglect or abuse is a reality of everyday life, though these struggles are often hidden from view.

Childhood adversity linked to higher risk of early death

September 4, 2013
Traumatic childhood experiences are linked to an increased risk of early death, according to new research using data from the 1958 National Child Development Study.

What effect does prenatal and postpartum maternal depression have on children?

February 24, 2017
The results of a large study do not support the notion that prenatal and postpartum maternal depression is particularly detrimental to children's psychological development. Instead, the most robust effects were found for ...

Study identifies factors that can help children thrive in the face of adversity

April 30, 2016
Research shows that people who experience four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as economic hardship, exposure to violence or the death of a loved one, are more likely to have lasting physical and mental ...

Recommended for you

Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

October 19, 2017
Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people, even in developed countries where hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists ...

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

Before assigning responsibility, our minds simulate alternative outcomes, study shows

October 17, 2017
How do people assign a cause to events they witness? Some philosophers have suggested that people determine responsibility for a particular outcome by imagining what would have happened if a suspected cause had not intervened.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.