Researchers and clinicians alike have been particularly concerned about the effects of maternal depression during and after pregnancy on children. But a new study suggests that a mother's depression during the preschool years may be more harmful to children than either her prenatal or immediately postnatal depression. It is the first study to track the effects of maternal depression on children from pregnancy until the children turn 5.
Interestingly, the researchers found that maternal depression during or immediately after pregnancy did not directly cause any behavioral problems in children, although maternal depression a few years later was correlated with behavioral problems in preschool-aged children.
In the paper, which appears in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the researchers offer a possible interpretation of their findings:
One potential explanation... is that depressed mothers are able to provide their children with what is needed, up until the child reaches toddlerhood. After this, the child may need more behaviorally engaged mothers.
For the work, the researchers tapped data on more than 11,000 families from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort, which included a measurement of symptoms of maternal depression taken at six time periods, beginning prenatally and concluding when the child turned 5, as well as information on the child's behavior, which was reported at three different time periods. The mothers reported any external (such as a temper tantrum) or internal (such as depression) problems experienced by their children.
Gaining a better understanding of the effects of maternal depression may help develop and target therapies for children and families, the researchers say.
Previously: Exploring new recommendations to diagnose prenatal and postpartum depression, "2020 Mom Project" promotes awareness of perinatal mood disorders and Study shows mothers receiving fertility treatments may have an elevated risk of depression
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