London, Feb 5: A stressful event early in a pregnancy can increase the risk of a woman's child having schizophrenia, the most common form of mental illness, say researchers.
It has been found that babies of mothers who suffered severe stress- such as the death of a relative- during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy are at increased risk of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a psychotic illness, with symptoms including hallucinations, delusions and quickly changing moods. There is no cure but some sufferers can be treated with drugs. Researchers have discovered a link between serious life changes in the first three months of pregnancy and development of the mental health disorder among offspring in later life.
Severe stress was classed as the death of an older child, partner, parent, or sibling or a relative developing a serious illness, such as cancer or having a heart attack.
Pregnant women who suffered major stress had children with a 67 per cent increased risk of schizophrenia.
''Increasingly we are learning that the environment a baby is exposed to inside the womb is determining long-term health. This study shows that stress in the early stages increases the risk of a baby getting mental health problems,'' The Daily Mail quoted Professor Philip Baker, of Tommy's, the baby charity which funded the study, as saying.
''That very early stage, which some people don't pay enough attention to, is the most important determinant of how successful a pregnancy is going to be,'' he added.
The study, published in the Archives of Psychiatry, was based at the Manchester research centre of Tommy's.