The finding came from a team at the University of Warwick, led by Professor Dieter Wolke, Professor of Developmental Psychology at University of Warwick and Warwick Medical School, and was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Prior research has indicated that stress in pregnancy can cause behavioral abnormalities in the child. One report from a team at Harvard Medical School found that prenatal stress may cause the baby to have an increased sensitivity to allergen exposure as well as a heightened chance of developing asthma. However, until now, the effect of the stress on a child's vulnerability to bullying was unknown.
For the purpose of this study, the team examined 8,829 kids from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a long-term study consisting of over 14,000 moms who enrolled during pregnancy in 1991 and 1992 and have had their child's health and development recorded since.
In pregnancy and the postnatal period, maternal anxiety, family adversity, and depression were evaluated. When the kids were in preschool, parenting, temperament, and partner conflict were assessed. Between the ages of 7 and 10, peer victimization was evaluated by asking questions to the child, teacher, and parent.
The experts discovered that a developing baby can be impacted by the stress and mental health issues that his/her mom has while she is pregnant. They also found that these factors directly increase the chance of the child becoming a victim of bullying later on.
This research was the first to observe the effect a mom's stress in pregnancy has on a child's susceptibility to being bullied, Wolke said.
There are a great number of neurohormones that are let into the blood stream when a person becomes stressed. However, when a pregnant woman becomes stressed, this can alter the stress response system of the growing baby.
"Changes in the stress response system can affect behavior and how children react emotionally to stress such as being picked on by a bully. Children who more easily show a stress reaction such as crying, running away, anxiety are then selected by bullies to home in to."
The main prenatal stress factors, according to the scientists, were serious family issues, such as:
- financial difficulty
- maternal mental health
- alcohol/drug abuse
"The whole thing becomes a vicious cycle, a child with an altered stress response system is more likely to be bullied, which affects their stress response even further and increases the likelihood of them developing mental health problems in later life."
Written by Sarah Glynn