How life in the womb affects a child’s behaviour
1 May 2006
A study of smaller babies has suggested that early factors, before birth, might be important in increasing the likelihood of childhood behavioural problems.
Researchers at the University of Bristol have found that shorter babies are more likely to have behavioural difficulties, in particular conduct and hyperactivity problems, as they get older.
Epidemiologist Dr Nicola Wiles looked back through records on 4,800 children who are part of the Children of the 90s Study, based in Bristol.
Previous research has already shown how premature babies are more likely to have emotional and behavioural problems as they grow up.
This study looked at babies who were born after a full nine months, but who were still smaller in length than average.
There was a significant link between the baby’s length and behaviour problems, as recorded by the mother at the age of 7. The children who had been shorter as babies were more likely to have problems.
Dr Wiles suggests that whatever affected the babies’ growth may have had subtle effects on the way the baby’s brain developed, which may be linked with later behavioural problems.
“The data shows that babies who experienced retarded growth in the womb (not premature babies) have a slightly increased risk of behavioural problems in childhood.
“As such this suggests that early factors, before birth, might be important in increasing vulnerability to such problems in childhood.
“This study therefore helps us to understand more about the causes of such problems. We already knew that early childhood experiences are very important in shaping children’s behaviour but this study demonstrates how experiences in-utero may also have a role to play.”
Academic paper reference:
Fetal growth and childhood behavioral problems: Results from the ALSPAC cohort. Nicola J Wiles, Tim J Peters, Jon Heron, David Gunnell, Alan Emond, Glyn Lewis, the ALSPAC Study Team American Journal of Epidemiology doi: 10.1093/aje/kwj108
ALSPAC The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (also known as Children of the 90s) is a unique ongoing research project based in the University of Bristol. It enrolled 14,000 mothers during pregnancy in 1991-2 and has followed most of the children and parents in minute detail ever since.