Can Prenatal Stress Promote the Acquisition of Dyslexia?

Research has not yet conclusively clarified whether or not prenatal stress can promote dyslexia in children. We know from developmental psychology and resilience research that a stressful pregnancy can have an unfavorable impact on children’s development. In the scientific literature. and in interviews we conducted, we found evidence of how severe stress affects child development. These environmental conditions can have a lasting impact on children’s psycho-emotional development and overall learning biography into adulthood. This can eventually foster learning problems such as acquired Dyslexia or concentration problems and social behavior disorders (Schneider, 2012).

Severe negative maternal stress due to partnership conflict, separation from the birth father, or loss of loved ones during pregnancy can pose an increased risk of stress to child development. Approximately 30 percent of families in the United States experience a highly stressful family environment during childhood (Maren Keller, 2020). It is not unlikely that around 25 to 30 percent of children in Germany and German-speaking countries are also born into a difficult family environment.

From our many years of research, we know that prenatal stress affects overall learning development as well as emotional regulation. In individual interviews, we were told that the pregnancy was quite stressful. The following statements support this: „Pregnancy was very stressful because I separated from the child’s father“ or „I had a lot of job stress during pregnancy“ or „The child’s father was an alcoholic and beat me during pregnancy„. We are familiar with such or similar statements about the family situation during the mothers‘ pregnancy. Others conclude very clearly: „My pregnancy was very stressful„. These children then experienced problems in their child development, which varied in severity depending on the situation. For us, such statements are important indications that prenatal stress can have an unfavorable impact on cognitive maturation, emotional regulatory capacity, and language and motor development. This stress may also promote the acquisition of Dyslexia and be seen as an important trigger for it.

Therefore, it can be assumed that prenatal stress can have an unfavorable effect on the children’s written language development. Often, these children also show language and motor impairments.

Many children with acquired Dyslexia (LRS) have experienced prenatal stress with their mothers during pregnancy. We observe these correlations particularly often in children who show very strong difficulties in the acquisition of written language during the early elementary school years. Many of these children, as is common in Saxony, have to attend a special school called an „LRS class“.

In summary, it is likely that prenatal stress has an adverse effect on learning development for children with learning and literacy disabilities in school – although not all causes have yet been identified. There is evidence that prenatal stress promotes learning difficulties in language and literacy acquisition that are related to early childhood development. An important indication of this is the early motor development of affected children. Many children with reading and spelling problems had a less intensive crawling phase, or none at all, which can be an indication of possible problems in later written language acquisition. In addition, there may be difficulties in the psycho-social area, manifested by concentration problems and other behavioral disorders. There is a clear connection here that unfavorable social environmental conditions in the prenatal phase can promote general learning disabilities as well as the acquisition of Dyslexia. However, more research is needed to understand all interactions in detail.


Schneider, Lindenberger (2012). ‚7 Prenatal Development and Early Childhood‘, in Developmental Psychology (7th ed.), Beltz, pp. 160-164. Available at:

Maren Keller, (2020) ‚Am tiefsten des U.‘, in Spiegel Wissen Issue 02/2020, Spiegel Verlag, pp. 34-39. Available at: