Domestic Violence Reaches the Womb, Study Finds

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals

pregnant woman

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Research suggests domestic violence affects children -- even in the womb.

According to U.S. News & World Report, researchers have found pregnant women who endure abusive husbands and boyfriends risk passing on the stress of domestic violence to their children. And their children can continue to feel the stress well into adulthood.

"Healthy development starts in the womb, and it is not only nutritional," lead researcher Axel Meyer, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Konstanz in Germany, tells the magazine. "Behavioral and emotional factors are important, and the effects are long-lasting."

Anxious and stressed-out mothers are more likely to have children who develop attention and behavior problems and other issues, adds Thomas O'Connor, director of the Wynne Center for Family Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

Researchers looked at the genes thought to be connected to stress.

On a genetic level, mothers stressed by domestic violence appear to "program their offspring to respond in a more costly way when exposed to stressors," Meyer tells U.S. News. The genes in the women themselves weren't affected.

"Data from many studies suggest that stressors need not be physical," Meyer points out. "Emotional neglect, ongoing familial conflict and other severe forms of adversity may also take their toll."

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