Maternal Inflammation Affect Child Behavior, Emotional Regulation - Dr. Axe

Fact Checked

This Dr. Axe content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure factually accurate information.

With strict editorial sourcing guidelines, we only link to academic research institutions, reputable media sites and, when research is available, medically peer-reviewed studies. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to these studies.

The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by our trained editorial staff. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to medically peer-reviewed studies.

Our team includes licensed nutritionists and dietitians, certified health education specialists, as well as certified strength and conditioning specialists, personal trainers and corrective exercise specialists. Our team aims to be not only thorough with its research, but also objective and unbiased.

The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

Study Finds Maternal Inflammation Risk Factors Associated With Children’s Behavioral, Emotional Regulation


Maternal inflammation - Dr. Axe

We know that inflammation is a natural response to foreign invaders in the body, and we also know that chronic inflammation can cause a host of problems. What has not been fully examined is how inflammation in a pregnant woman affects her child after it’s born.

That’s what new research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in December 2023 sought to find out, and the findings show that “maternal inflammation risk factors may be associated with dysregulation in children,” according a press release from the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program at the National Institutes of Health, which funded the study.

In a nutshell, the study authors concluded that inflammation during pregnancy can lead to behavioral and emotional issues in children. That makes it vitally important for pregnant women to control inflammation by following a healthy pregnancy diet and taking the proper prenatal vitamins, among other ways to stay in the best shape for both the mother and child.

Study: Maternal Inflammation and Children’s Health

As noted, the ECHO Program embarked on this cohort study, taking a look at “perinatal factors known to be related to maternal and neonatal inflammation.” The researchers did this by looking at 18 other cohorts “that had both Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) data on children (6-18 years) and information on perinatal exposures including maternal prenatal infections was used.”

Then they examined each child’s “CBCL–Dysregulation Profile (CBCL-DP),” which includes data on attention, anxiety and depression markers, and aggression.


What did they find? About 13.4 percent of the 4,595 children in the cohort met the criteria for having a dysregulation profile. In other words, those children were dealing with behavioral and emotional issues that could be associated with maternal inflammation. Boys were also affected more than girls.

In addition, 35 percent of youths with CBCL-DP had mothers with prenatal infections leading up to birth, while just 28 percent of the children without CBCL-DP had mothers with prenatal infections.

After analyzing all the data, ECHO found that the following maternal inflammation risk factors were associated with behavioral and emotional dysregulation in children:

  • having a first-degree relative with a psychiatric disorder
  • being born to a mother with lower educational attainment, who was obese, had any prenatal infection and/or who smoked tobacco during pregnancy

“Addressing factors and treating conditions associated with behavior challenges may help improve outcomes for these children,” said Jean Frazier, M.D., of the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School and a leader of the study said in the press release.

Keys to a Healthy Pregnancy

This news emphasizes just how important a mother’s health is to her children. Here are some more tips to combat inflammation while pregnant and to have a healthy pregnancy:

  • Eat a balanced diet during pregnancy consisting of high-quality protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.
  • Don’t go overboard on extra calorie intake, and keep empty calories to a minimum.
  • Eat a colorful plate full of fruits and vegetables.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Eat organic free-range eggs, wild-caught salmon, organ meats, nuts and seeds, yogurt and kefir, beans, lentils, and grains.
  • Take prenatal vitamins like iron, folate, calcium, vitamin D, choline, DHA and probiotics.
  • Avoid deli meat, raw or smoked seafood, rare meat, high-mercury fish, raw eggs, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • Exercise with pregnancy workouts, such as walking, running, weight training, swimming, yoga, cycling, and exercises like squats, pelvic tilts, bent-over dumbbell rows, standing side bends an dumbbell curls.

Once the baby is born, it’s also important to take the best postnatal vitamins, such as iron, calcium, vitamin D, choline and DHA, and make sure you feed your children a healthy diet as well.

More Health