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

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 women who report having experienced early childhood 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.

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