I'm an intelligent and educated woman. I'm currently studying towards a Masters in Neuropsychology. On my reading list are books like 'early life origins of human health and disease' and 'only one chance' which explain the profound ways that the unborn baby is affected by the physical and mental state of the mother.

I already know the answer to my question 'could I have damaged my unborn baby in the womb?' - the answer is undoubtedly yes, but I guess I just want some reassurance to take the guilt away

I have suffered with mental illness for the past 10 years, since I was 15 years old. I don't want to go into the details, but I have been hospitalized and I have been medication for most of the past decade. I stopped the medication when I got pregnant. I'm still seeing my psychiatrist regularly. I also have a nurse who visits me at home twice a week. Despite this, I have had relapses including physically destructive violent outbursts bordering on psychosis, severe depression to the point where I can't get out of bed to shower or eat, and emotional breakdowns.

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    You should really talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of your medication during pregnancy. Yes, some medications have side effects, but untreated mental illness also isn't good. There are reproductive psychiatrists who specialize in treating mental illness during pregnancy.
    – McCann
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 13:39
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    The first two paragraphs appear to have zero relevance to the question.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 14:55
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    Probably not eating properly is damaging both to yourself and the baby you are carrying. Talk to the doctor as well. There may be options for medication
    – Ed Heal
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 19:09
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    @corsiKa - I disagree. Those paragraphs illustrate the source of underlying anxieties our Anonymous friend has and that there is a specific issue of dealing with guilt which needs to be addressed in answers - without that information it essentially becomes a question that would be closed as seeking medical advice. Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 20:01
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    What do you mean by damaged? If you mean harmed the physical health of the embryo of fetus, only a clinical evaluation can tell you that. If you mean their future mental health or development, epigenetics is a young science and I doubt anyone can give a conclusive answer in that regard.
    – user11394
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 5:28

2 Answers 2


While you could have damaged your child you also have to remember that crack addicts who continue to abuse drugs while pregnant ultimately manage to produce healthy babies more frequently than you'd expect.

It's likely that chemical or other imbalances that exist in your body may be transferred to your child, but you did not choose them - you were born with them even if they didn't develop straight away.

As a parent, guilt over the past is something you have to come to terms with no matter what. Hindsight is always 20/20 and as you learn more and reflect on situations there are endless ways you could have handled situations better that you didn't/couldn't see in the moment.

The fact that it bothers you means you care, and that alone is a good indication that maybe you've done less damage than you think. You'll have plenty of opportunity to damage the mental state of you child once they're out of the womb too and we all do it unwittingly. Philip Larkin covered it pretty well if with a hint of profanity...

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    I don't see the relevance of referencing crack addict's pregnancies when not citing any data about them. I don't think it's a relevant comparison, regardless. There's a severe cognitive dissonance for me to essentially read "Crack babies turn out okay so your specific medications are probably nothing to worry about" when there are a lot of Category X drugs, some with much more severe pregnancy effects than cocaine, alcohol, or marijuana use.
    – user11394
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 5:46

I would just second @James Snell's excellent answer.

Unless you have passed on a known autosomal dominant genetic condition, there is no predicting the result of your pregnancy. The vast majority of much more difficult pregnancies turn out just fine.

Even taking drugs known to affect a fetus doesn't mean that every fetus will be affected.

You're feeling enough guilt to be here seeking some reassurance. I hope you find it; you are making amazing sacrifices for the sake of your unborn child, and that already puts him at an advantage, not a disadvantage.

I have no doubt that your care and concern to give your child the best life you can will continue after the pregnancy.

Speak to your psychiatrist and to your obstetrician about your deep worry; some of it may be due to your discontinuance of your meds. As @McCann stated, there are people who specialize in this area.

If you are worried about epigenetic effects on your unborn child, don't. There is no guarantee at all that your worry will affect your baby, and the worrying itself won't help either of you. If I might make a suggestion, some daily mindful meditation may help get you to a better place regarding your worry now, and certainly won't hurt the baby! It might even help you to cope with the stresses of being a new parent.

May you be blessed with a healthy pregnancy, an easy delivery, and a wonderful baby. (The first and last are the norm; the middle request is a special blessing!)

  • What do you mean by much more difficult pregnancies? Mothers with worse mental health, or physical health, or either/both?
    – user11394
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 5:49
  • "There is no guarantee at all that your worry will affect your baby" - I seem to recall studies that there are statistically significant effects of mother's mental state, so I wouldn't be so sure without a thorough perusal of the literature (which is why I personally think this question is too medical-advice to stay open).
    – user3143
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 11:19
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    @user3143 - we do allow medical questions. Yes, highly stressful pregnancies might cause methylation of DNA; but please show me the guarantee. Finally, what does methylated DNA prove? Are you willing to stake your earthly belongings on your beliefs? There is science, and there is the interpretation of results. Don't be too certain you are correct. "From principles is derived probability, but truth or certainty is obtained only from facts." (Tom Stoppard) Where are yours? Would you post them in an answer for us? Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 18:13
  • @anon - I was remembering different effects - the impact of hormonal balance on protein building (I don't recall DNA methylation as being a stated mechanism). Don't recall exact details from years ago, sorry - and I don't feel comfortable answering a medical topic without details far more specialized than my level of knowledge, even if I could find a couple of random studies. Yes, we allow medical questions - but IMHO this one can only be answered other than "maybe" by fetal development specialist, in professional setting (e.g. knowing exact mental and prescription history of the person)
    – user3143
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 19:31
  • Your objections are pretty fuzzy for the strength of your opinions (imo, heh!) ;-) Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 20:00

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