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Stress during pregnancy, does it affect your child's IQ?

Updated: 4 days ago

The Surprising Link Between Mom's Stress and a Child's IQ

As parents, we all know stress is an inevitable part of parents life, but did you know that maternal stress levels during pregnancy can influence children's IQ scores later in life?

Unlike a study conducted in 2018 that found no association between maternal prenatal stress and child intelligence among 4,251 mother-child dyads from a multiethnic population-based cohort in the Netherlands, various other researchers have found a link between maternal stress, and child neurodevelopment, including developmental delays, cognitive impairments and emotional problems, and ADHD symptoms.

A recent study published by the European Society of Endocrinology revealed a more fascinating link between prenatal stress hormones and childhood cognitive development, with a twist.

Here are the main findings:

  • Boys vs. Girls: The study found that high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in pregnant mothers during the third trimester were associated with lower IQ scores in their male children at age 7. Interestingly, this wasn't the case for daughters.

  • Cortisol vs. Cortisone: The placenta, which is the organ that nourishes your baby during pregnancy, also contains an enzyme called 11β-HSD2. This enzyme acts like a shield, converting cortisol, the active stress hormone, into its inactive form, called cortisone.

  • Girls with a Built-in Advantage: The study suggests that girls might be better protected by this placental enzyme. Higher levels of cortisone in pregnant mothers were linked to improved IQ scores in their female children.

What This Means for Parents:

The good news is that not all stress is harmful. The body's natural response to stress hormones is essential for healthy development. So, don’t fret over stress, as that can be stressful too. Instead, parents should consider the potential impact of prenatal stress on a child's cognitive development. While stress can't be completely avoided, managing stress levels during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester, could be beneficial as it can affect the child’s IQ in later years.

Tips for Managing Stress During Pregnancy:

  • Prioritize Self-Care: Make time for activities you enjoy, whether it's reading, resting, spending time in nature, being in a supportive environment, relaxing in a warm bath, yoga, etc.

  • Healthy Habits: Maintain a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. These healthy habits can help manage stress levels. It is also necessary to follow your doctor’s prescription and avoid over-the-counter drugs, as some may not be beneficial for your health.

  • Seek Support: Don't be afraid to reach out for support from your partner, family, friends, or a therapist.

Remember, by prioritizing your well-being during pregnancy, you're not just taking care of yourself; you're also helping your child have a healthy development.

We're Here to Help!

At Nuture CDC, we always look for ways to support you and help your child thrive. Got questions? We are here to answer them, or you can visit our website to book a consultation for your child.


Cortes Hidalgo, A. P., Neumann, A., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., Jaddoe, V. W. V., Rijlaarsdam, J., Verhulst, F. C., White, T., van IJzendoorn, M. H., & Tiemeier, H. (2018). Prenatal maternal stress and child IQ. Child Development, 89(6), 1999-2011.

Smith, I. (2024). Mom’s Stress Hormone Shapes Child’s IQ. Neuroscience News. Retrieved from

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