Maternal Exposure to Violence and Offspring Neurodevelopment: A Systematic Review

Kristin Toso, T. Paul de Cock, Gerard Leavey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Stress during pregnancy is known to affect fetal neurodevelopment. It seems likely therefore that intimate partner violence (IPV) and domestic violence (DV) as extreme stressors will have a similarly adverse effect. Objectives: A systematic review was conducted to assess the association between prenatal exposure to violence for mothers and developmental difficulties in their children. Data sources: PubMed, PsycInfo, CINAHL, ERIC, Science Direct, SCOPUS, PsyARTICLES, Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations, Women's Studies International and Gender Studies Database were all searched using the agreed search terms. Study selection and data extraction: We include studies of women who have experienced any violence, fear of violence or aggression while pregnant, including emotional, psychological, physical or sexual violence in the context of IPV or DV. Studies were excluded if the neurodevelopmental outcomes of the offspring were not assessed. Studies from all countries were included, in English or translated to English, and search dates were not restricted. We included all years from inception of the database until the search date. Synthesis: Study design and biases, assessment tools, management of confounding, results and overall quality were assessed. Results: We identified 11 papers reporting on observational studies. Almost three quarters of the studies found a relationship between prenatal exposure to violence and developmental difficulties in the offspring. Differing assessment tools were used with a range of data collected and not all adjusted their findings for the same confounders. Conclusions: Current evidence on the relationship between prenatal violence exposure, as IPV or DV, and consequent child developmental disorders remains limited. Future research using comprehensive study designs, larger samples and longitudinal follow-up of the offspring could clarify this association. While maternal trauma resulting from exposure to violence may play an important role in childhood development disorders, additional intervening factors on the pathway need further explored.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-203
Number of pages14
JournalPaediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology
Issue number2
Early online date6 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Mar 2020


  • domestic violence
  • impaired development
  • intimate partner violence
  • maternal stress
  • mental health
  • neurodevelopment
  • prenatal
  • violence


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