Bad relationships increase risk of infection in both mother and child

Posted on October 19, 2016

This is the conclusion in Roger Ekeberg Henriksen’s PhD thesis, recently defended at the University of Bergen.

“My study does not prove that the first thing leads to the second. But those who report that they are dissatisfied in their relationship more often report illnesses during pregnancy. Their children are also reported ill more often during their first year.”

“If you compare the group of pregnant women with the lowest satisfaction to the group with highest satisfaction in their relationship, the first group’s risk of becoming ill is more than twice that of the second group.”

Henriksen emphasises that the gap between the groups is major. He adds that the respondents’ level of education and income are above average, and so is the level of satisfaction in their relationship. But since the study is so comprehensive, all levels of society are represented.

When it comes to the children, the connections are even more obvious than with the pregnant women. Henriksen looked at the occurrence of eight different infectious diseases, from the common cold to stomach flu and inflammation of the ear. With children up to six months, the occurrence of all eight infections was higher when the mothers were dissatisfied in their relationship.

The thesis is based on the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa), a health study that has been collecting data about mothers and their children since 1999. The study of pregnant women's infectious diseases includes more than 67.000 women. The study of children's infectious diseases includes nearly 91.000 women and more than 100.000 children.

In order to measure contentment in the relationship, the women in the survey have responded to whether or not they agree with ten statements such as "My partner and I have a close relationship," "I often think about ending the relationship," and "I've been fortunate in my choice of partner." An average value has then been estimated and used in the analyses.

Stress responses are completely natural to the body. For instance, they enable us to mobilise quickly in order to avoid dangers. In such situations, some bodily functions are prioritised before others, and the brain in particular is given extra energy under stress. When the stress response is transferred to the unborn child during pregnancy, evolution researchers claim that this helps the unborn child prepare for the world outside.

It is not natural to remain in a stressed condition, however. If this happens, our immune system may be given lower priority, and we thus become less resistant towards infectious diseases from bacteria and viruses. According to Henriksen, this is the effect that comes into play in his research.


Category(s):Child Development, Family Problems

Source material from Kilden Gender Research


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