Maternal depression linked to child behavior problems: study

Children are seen painting in this file photo. (Monstera/Pexels)

A new US study has found a link between mothers who experience increasing levels of depression before they become pregnant until months after birth, and their children’s risk of developing behavioral problems.

The study, conducted by psychology researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), found that changes in a mother’s depression over time can impact behavioral well-being and childhood emotional.

“Our results suggest that increased maternal symptoms of depression from preconception to postpartum contribute to children’s decreased attention and behavioral control, which may increase the risk of lifelong problems. lifelong,” said lead author and UCLA graduate student Gabrielle Rinne. Press release.

“Parents should be aware, however, that this can be resolved with early childhood intervention,” she added.

The results were published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Affective Disorders Diary.

The study was conducted in two parts over a seven-year period, before COVID-19, and followed mothers and their children from preconception to age five.

According to the study, researchers first analyzed data from 362 women, most of whom were black or Hispanic and from low-income backgrounds, to examine disparities in maternal and child health among poor and minority families. .

The study reports that the women all had a young child before and were followed through a subsequent pregnancy. The women were asked a total of four times about their symptoms of depression – once before becoming pregnant, twice during pregnancy and again about three months after birth – with the researchers tracking how their feelings changed over time.

“Adding a child to the family is a significant emotional and psychological adjustment that can involve both joy and distress,” Rinne said in the statement. “Maternal depression is one of the most common complications of pregnancy and postpartum.”

The study found that just under 75% of the women reported minor symptoms of depression that did not change during the study.

However, 12% had minor symptoms that “greatly increased” over time and 7% had “high persistent symptoms”.

In the second part of the study, the researchers looked at 125 of these women and their children several years later.

According to the study, mothers were asked to describe their child’s temperament and behavior when he reached the age of four. The researchers wanted to know more about emotional distress and children’s ability to regulate their emotions.

When the children turned five, the researchers asked them to look at an iPad screen showing a series of fish and asked them to identify the direction the middle fish was swimming while ignoring the others.

Rinne explained in the release that high scores with this task show a greater ability to concentrate and focus one’s attention.

The study found that children of mothers who experienced increased depression from preconception to the postpartum period performed “significantly worse” on this task than those of mothers with consistently low symptoms of depression.

However, the researchers note that there was no difference in performance between children whose mothers had consistently high depression and those whose mothers had consistently low depression symptoms.

UCLA professor and lead author Christine Dunkel Schetter said in the statement that the findings suggest a “pattern” in how maternal depression may “negatively affect” their children.

While she acknowledges that not all children of mothers with symptoms of depression will have problems, Dunkel Schetter said it’s important to note that these children are at higher risk for social-emotional and behavioral problems.

According to the study, children whose mothers have consistently reported mild symptoms of depression are not at risk.

“Moms who repeatedly experience depression or stress should be aware of the effects it can have on young children,” Dunkel Schetter said. “They can seek evaluation and treatment from a doctor or mental health professional for their children and themselves.”

The study authors say the findings highlight “the importance of comprehensive mental health care at multiple stages of reproductive life”, beginning well before pregnancy and continuing after childbirth.