Exposure to an adverse prenatal environment can influence fetal development and result in long-lasting changes in the offspring. However, the association between maternal exposure to stressful events during pregnancy and the achievement of pre-reading skills in the offspring is unknown. Here we examined the association between prenatal exposure to the Chilean high-magnitude earthquake that occurred on February 27th, 2010 and the development of early reading precursors skills (listening comprehension, print knowledge, alphabet knowledge, vocabulary, and phonological awareness) in children at kindergarten age. This multilevel retrospective cohort study including 3280 children, of whom 2415 were unexposed and 865 were prenatally exposed to the earthquake shows substantial evidence that maternal exposure to an unambiguously stressful event resulted in impaired pre-reading skills and that a higher detrimental effect was observed in those children who had been exposed to the earthquake during the first trimester of gestation. In addition, females were more significantly affected by the exposure to the earthquake than their male peers in alphabet knowledge; contrarily, males were more affected than females in print knowledge skills. These findings suggest that early intervention programs for pregnant women and/or children exposed to prenatal stress may be effective strategies to overcome impaired pre-reading skills in children.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).