A study done by Trinity College, Dublin found that parental stress can stall babies’ developments and lead to problems developing their motor and social skills.

Researchers surveyed 11,000 children and found that when parents are stressed they are less likely to attend to their babies’ needs. The report’s co-author, Dr. Elizabeth Nixon of Trinity College, said that parents’ ability to respond to their babies’ needs was an important skill and that stress diminished parents’ ability to read these signals. The study titled Parenting and Infant Development was part of the government-funded Growing Up in Ireland study.

The investigation also sought to discover what factors were contributing to parents’ stress. Women were most stressed about money and lack of support from family and friends. Men were stressed about their relationship with their wives. Nixon explained, “The most important predictor for fathers’ stress was the quality of the relationship.” She added, “It points to the important role that mothers have to play in supporting fathers’ parenting. Mothers can play a role supporting or undermining fathers’ parenting.”

The team of researchers interviewed parents when the children were nine months old and then followed up twice more before the children turned five. The researchers looked for developmental milestones including crawling and grasping items, social skills such as cooperating with parents when getting dressed, and communication skills such as making associations between words and objects.

Researchers found that children born prematurely took longer to develop than those born at full term, but most children would catch up.

The study found that the children of parents who were more sensitive when interacting with their child had higher developmental scores, although the margin from the correlation was small.

Nixon said about the study as a whole, “These findings show that even from a very young age, the sensitivity that parents show when interacting with their babies is important for development.” She continued, “The findings also show that parenting does not happen in a vacuum. Both mothers’ and fathers’ parenting behaviours can be negatively affected by stress and depression, but babies can be protected from these potentially negative influences if sensitive parent-child interactions can be maintained.”