OBJECTIVES: It has been suggested that maternal emotional stress during cardiogenesis may be a risk factor for congenital heart defects (CHD). We examined this association using bereavement around the time of conception as an indicator of maternal exposure to stress in a large registry-based study.
METHODS: We identified 1,770,878 singletons born in Denmark from January 1, 1978, to December 31, 2008. Of these, 44,820 children were born to mothers who had lost a first-degree relative during the time period from 1 year before their last menstrual period until delivery (6080 mothers lost a child or partner, and 38,740 mothers lost a parent or sibling). CHD diagnoses were identified from the Danish Registry of Congenital Heart Disease. We used logistic regression models to calculate prevalence odds ratios (ORs) of CHD for exposed children compared with unexposed children.
RESULTS: Exposed children had a slightly higher prevalence of CHD than unexposed children (0.94% vs 0.82%; adjusted OR = 1.11, 95% confidence interval 1.00-1.22). The association was most marked for children of mothers who had lost a child or partner (1.15% vs 0.82%; adjusted OR = 1.32, 1.04-1.67).
CONCLUSIONS: Prenatal exposure to severe emotional stress may slightly increase the prevalence of CHD in offspring.