During pregnancy and the first two years of parenting (i.e. the perinatal period) maternal distress (trauma, depression, and/or stress) can create an environment for the developing fetus and, later, for the very young child that will have negative developmental and educational impacts over the course of the child's life. Too many children are born into isolated, vulnerable families where these multiple stressors give rise to an inhospitable environment for the critical first years of development.
For the past decade, especially with advances in understanding brain development and its connections to lifecycle outcomes in development and health, research has increasingly focused on the role of stress in childhood morbidity and mortality. Evidence is mounting that stress in pregnancy may be a significant factor contributing to negative birth outcomes (e.g. premature birth and low birth weight).
The effects of maternal distress in pregnancy are frequently reinforced and potentially worsened by an environment of "toxic stress" for a baby or young child. Toxic stress can change the expression of certain traits over the life course of an individual, potentially accounting for the higher rates of diabetes, obesity, and developmental delays seen in many children living in poverty.