College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Summer 8-22-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Cecilia Martinez-Torteya, PhD

Second Advisor

Kathryn Grant, PhD

Third Advisor

Jocelyn Carter, PhD


Prenatal stress has been linked to a myriad of adverse obstetric, infant, and childhood outcomes. Several prospective studies have linked maternal stress and distress during pregnancy with long-term neurocognitive, behavioral, and emotional consequences for the offspring, including decreased cognitive abilities as well as symptoms of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, and anxiety. However, limited conclusions on the influence of type of stressors and the magnitude of the effect of prenatal stress on specific developmental trajectories can be drawn due to variation in study design and measured outcomes. This meta-analysis synthesized the state of the current literature and quantified the effects of prenatal stress on internalizing, externalizing, and ADHD symptoms among children ages 5 to 18. The current study also evaluated whether pregnancy specific (e.g., type of stressor), sociodemographic (e.g., child gender), and methodological factors (e.g., reporter of child outcome) moderated the association between prenatal stress and outcomes in school-aged children.

A total of 29 studies met full inclusion criteria for data analysis. A small positive effect was observed between prenatal stress and internalizing (r = .15), externalizing (r = .13), and ADHD (r = .18), symptoms in school aged youth. Moderator analysis indicated effect sizes were stronger in younger women whose children were experiencing internalizing symptoms.

Findings suggest maternal stress during pregnancy is associated with offspring emotional and behavioral developmental outcomes in school aged children and adolescents. Improvement in the operationalization of sociodemographic variables is needed to continue to explore alternative characteristics that could contribute to this association.

SLP Collection


Included in

Psychology Commons