Are you a woman dissatisfied in your relationship? Well if you are and you’re planning to have a child this could be opening you up risk to infectious diseases and the effect on your child according to Roger Ekeberg Henriksen’s PhD thesis ‘Social relationships, stress, infection risk in mother and child’.

In Henriksen’s study (2016) it does not prove that each leads to the next. However a strong correlation, but those women who reported being dissatisfied in their relationships and reporting illness during pregnancy saw an increase in their children. The study also compared a group of pregnant women with low satisfaction to a group with high satisfaction in their relationships, the first group’s risk of becoming ill was more than twice that of the second group.

Baby Making Funny Face --- Image by © JLP/Jose L. Pelaez/Corbis

Baby Making Funny Face — Image by © JLP/Jose L. Pelaez/Corbis

Henriksen (2016) emphasised the gap between the group adding that the respondent level of education with incomes above average, and so the level of satisfaction in their relationship. Due to the comprehensive data collection, a societal representation of all levels was studied.

Within the study the strongest and more obvious links was with pregnant woman, to gauge a better understanding looked at eight different types of infectious diseases such as common flu or cold and ear inflammation revealing a correlative connection amongst them all when mothers withstood leaving dissatisfying relationships.

Some interesting and yet significant findings came from the following :

The Henriksen (2016) thesis researched connections between dissatisfying relationships and physical illness causations. The research revealed that psychological factors such as depression and life quality had direct impacts on one another. Proven through Henriksen documenting issues with participants with shyness and somatic diseases showed direct correlative evidence with social isolation and loneliness directly impacting physiology (Nelson, O’Brien, Blackson, Calkins, & Keane).

Although stress responses are completely natural to the human body, this allows for the human species to mobilise quickly in order to avoid dangers seeing a higher prioritisation before others with cognitive functionality given extra energy under stressful periods. In doing this stress transference occurs to the unborn child during pregnancy, and that in normal circumstances this helps the child prepare for the world outside of womb.

It is not natural for someone to remain in a state of constant stress, and if this happens the immune system is given lower prioritisation, thus, a mother is less capable to cope with infectious diseases from bacteria and viruses. Within Henriksen’s research looked at the brains cognitive function and other research on physiological mechanisms could see that having a predictable and supportive partner is decisive to handling stress with greater stress enhancers with the absence of social support (Henriksen, 2016).

To further support this we look at a 1999, Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study, where there was a study of 67,000 pregnant women’s, 91,000 women’s and more than 100,000 children’s infectious diseases (Magnus, et al., 2006).  Furthermore, to this in 2010, Danish researchers published a study of Danish children born between 1977 to 2004 who were hospitalised due to infections during their first year and later years of life (Jorgensen, Pedersen, Jacobsen, Biggar, & Frisch, 2010). The study did not stop there looking at the occurrence of stressful events such as the loss of a child or a partner, or divorce during the duration of the mother’s life pre-pregnancy and while pregnant (Jorgensen, Pedersen, Jacobsen, Biggar, & Frisch, 2010).

The findings showed that there was an overlap between the mothers’ life experience and child’s risk of hospitalisation, showing a staggering correlation of 67 percent higher risk to infectious disease than those not exposed as such, with risk decreasing as children grow older.  However, with all the studies none can maintain with certainty whether these findings reflect biological effects or other factors that affect the mothers and children’s health indirectly (Henriksen, 2016).

Interestingly, it should be said that a study cannot just cover mother and child but should also look at how men are effected. By doing this we are able to draw attention to the fact that there are some major differences as men even though they generally report less health issues than women, once they break their breakdown is severe and they see emotional social support from their partner disappears (Gallagher & Waite, 2013) (Kakaire, Nakimuli, Osinde, Mbalinda, & Kakande, 2014).

The Henriksen (2016) research does not wish to increase the worry of already worrying pregnant women, but believes that personal health should be made significantly aware of to the partner. So it is recommended that should you be suffering from stress you should talk with your midwife or general practitioner and this can be from something you may think is a harmless disease to even the dissatisfaction of a partner during pregnancy all can be seen as a risk factor.

Works Cited

  1. Begeer, S., Terwogt, M., Rieffe, C., Stegge, H., Olthof, T., & Koot, H. M. (2014). Understanding emotional transfer in children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism , 301-310.
  2. Gallagher, M., & Waite, L. (2013). What are the Possible Consequences of Divorce for Adults? In A. Hawkins, T. Fackrell, & S. Harris, Should I Keep Trying to Work it Out?
  3. Henriksen, R. E. (2016). Social relationships, stress, infection risk in mother and child. Bergen: University of Bergen.
  4. Jorgensen, K. T., Pedersen, B. V., Jacobsen, S., Biggar, R. J., & Frisch, M. (2010). National cohort study of reproductive risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis in Denmark: a role for hyperemesis, gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia? Clinical and epidemiological research, 69(2). doi:10.1136/ard.2008.099945
  5. Kakaire, O., Nakimuli, A., Osinde, M. O., Mbalinda, S. N., & Kakande, N. (2014). Male involvement during pregnancy and childbirth: men’s perceptions, practices and experiences during the care for women who developed childbirth complications in Mulago Hospital, Uganda. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-54
  6. Magnus, P., Irgens, L. M., Haug, K., Nystad, W., Skjærven, R., & Stoltenberg, C. (2006). Cohort profile: The Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). International Journal of Epidemiology, 1146-1150.
  7. Nelson, J., O’Brien, M., Blackson, A. N., Calkins, S. D., & Keane, S. P. (n.d.). Family Stress and Parental Responses to Children’s Negative Emotions: Tests of the Spillover, Crossover, and Compensatory Hypotheses.
  8. Patterson, C. H. (1959). Family Stress and Parental Responses to Children’s Negative Emotions: Tests of the Spillover, Crossover, and Compensatory Hypotheses. In Counseling and Psychotherapy: Theory and Practice. New York: Harper & Row. Retrieved from

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