Exposure to War Prior to Conception: Maternal Emotional Distress Forecasts Sex-Specific Child Behavior Problems

Roseriet Beijers, Anat Scher, Hanit Ohana, Ayala Maayan-Metzger, Micah Leshem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Exposure to maternal stress during the prenatal period adversely affects child outcomes. Recent investigations have shifted to an even earlier period, the preconception period, to better understand the role of this formative period in human health and disease. We investigated the links between maternal emotional distress following preconception exposure to war, and child outcomes at age 10. Material and Methods: Before becoming pregnant, mothers were exposed to missile bombardment on the north of Israel in the 2006 war. Mothers who conceived within 12 months after the war were recruited and compared to mothers who conceived during the same period but lived in Israel but outside missile range. During the initial assessment, mothers completed a questionnaire on emotional distress. At 10 years of age, mothers and children (N = 68) reported on child socio-emotional outcomes. Results: Multiple regression analyses revealed that, in girls, higher maternal emotional distress following preconception war exposure predicted more internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, and more behavior regulation problems. In boys, maternal emotional distress was not significantly related to outcomes. Conclusion: Maternal emotional distress following preconception exposure to war forecasts sex-specific child behavioral problems as reported by the mother and the child. Though the results warrant cautious interpretation because of the relatively small sample size and differential attrition, our findings add to the small but growing body of research on the consequences of maternal stress exposure prior to conception for the next generation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3802
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number7
StatePublished - 23 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Behavior problems
  • Child development
  • Executive functioning
  • Preconception stress
  • War

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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