Stress during pregnancy can affect children's puberty age

A new study indicates that children whose mothers experience stress during pregnancy enter puberty earlier.

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[Translate to English:] Professor Cecilia Høst Ramlau-Hansen og postdoc Anne Gaml-Sørensen fra Institut for Folkesundhed. Photo: AU Health, Privatfoto

Both girls and boys born to mothers who experienced stress during pregnancy enter puberty earlier.

This is according to a new study by researchers at Aarhus University, who examined the connection between a mother’s experience of stress and the timing of their children's pubertal development.

"We were interested in investigating how a mother's stress level during pregnancy could have a long-term effect on children's development," explains postdoc Anne Gaml-Sørensen from the Department of Public Health, who led the study together with Professor Cecilia Høst Ramlau-Hansen.

Investigating Many Markers

A few studies have previously investigated the link between maternal stress during pregnancy and the children's age at puberty.

Some found that girls experienced their first menstruation earlier than their peers if their mothers had experienced stress during pregnancy.

Other studies did not find the same connection.

"However, we have the opportunity to investigate many different puberty markers in both boys and girls," says Cecilia Høst Ramlau-Hansen, leader of the Danish National Birth Cohort  (DNBC) and the DNBC Puberty Study, which is among the largest of its kind worldwide.

Data from Nearly 16,000 Children

The study includes data from almost 16,000 children who provided information on various puberty markers throughout their puberty.

In addition to the first menstruation, the girls provided information on the age of breast development and pubic hair, while the boys provided information on voice changes, first ejaculation, testicle development, and pubic hair.

The pregnant women reported in the second trimester whether they had experienced stress during pregnancy.

They reported on experiences of stress due to, for example, financial problems, housing issues, relationships with family and friends, relationship problems, or serious illness in the immediate family.

The researchers compared this information with the children's well-being, height, and weight at age seven, as well as information on puberty timing.

"Overall, we found that the more stress the pregnant women reported during pregnancy, the earlier the children entered puberty. We also found that this association was not due to an impact on the children's own well-being and BMI in childhood," says Anne Gaml-Sørensen.

Since early puberty is associated with serious health consequences later in life, the researchers believe it is important to understand the underlying causes.

"Early puberty is associated with obesity, diabetes, and reduced mental health later in life. Therefore, it is important to be aware of providing extra support to pregnant women who experience stress," says Anne Gaml-Sørensen.


Behind the Research

Study Type: Cohort study. The study is part of the Danish National Birth Cohort  -

External Funding: The research is funded by the Research Council for Health and Disease, the Independent Research Fund Denmark, Aarhus University, and the European Research Council with grants awarded to Professor Cecilia Høst Ramlau-Hansen.

Link to the Scientific Article:



Postdoc Anne Gaml-Sørensen
Aarhus University, Department of Public Health
Phone: +45 40868183

Professor Cecilia Ramlau-Hansen
Aarhus University, Department of Public Health
Phone: +45 26295715