Are you a klutz? A new study out of Australia suggests an unexpected reason why. It found that stressful events in the latter stage of a woman's pregnancy may increase the risk of movement and coordination deficits later in the child's life. Reporting this week in the journal Child Development, researchers at the University of Notre Dame Australia say they followed 2,900 Australian mothers, testing them at 18 and 34 weeks pregnant to document stressful events during pregnancy such as divorce, death in the family, a move, or pregnancy issues. Fast-forward a decade: When these women's children were 10, 14, and 17 years old, the offspring had their motor development and general coordination—things like hand strength, walking heel-toe, and standing on one foot—tested.
The more stressful events a mother experienced (particularly those who went through three or more such events), especially later in pregnancy, the worse the children performed at every age tested. But the head of the developmental and behavioral pediatrics department at a New York hospital tells Live Science that it's hard to read too much into the findings. The skills tested for "may not necessarily matter much in life," he says, as compared to, say, testing for whether the kids could button a shirt. "Those might be more real-world examples of motor deficits that affect people on a daily basis." Either way, study co-author Beth Hands says in a press release that the results suggest programs that help reduce maternal stress in pregnancy could improve outcomes for these children. (Maternal stress in pregnancy leaves its trace in children's DNA.)