March 07, 2017
1 min read

Postpartum depression more harmful to offspring than prenatal depression

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Exposure to maternal depression during preschool years was more harmful to children’s psychological development than perinatal exposure.

“Maternal depression is associated with child behavior problems, but findings on associations between perinatal [maternal depression] and later [child behavior problems] are mixed. Nevertheless, there exists a notion that the perinatal period is a sensitive stage for exposed children,” Line C. Gjerde, PhD, of Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, and colleagues wrote.

To assess longitudinal associations between maternal prenatal and postpartum depression and child behavior problems, researchers analyzed data for 11,599 families, including 17,830 siblings, from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort study. Mothers reported depressive symptoms at gestational weeks 17 and 30, and at 6 months, 1.5, 3 and 5 years postpartum. Depression in fathers was assessed at gestational week 17. Child internalizing and externalizing problems were measured at 1.5, 3 and 5 years postpartum.

Parental depression at all time points was significantly and positively associated with child internalizing and externalizing problems.

However, sibling comparison indicated only concurrent maternal depression was significantly associated with internalizing (2.82; 95% CI, 1.91-3.73) and externalizing (2.4; 95% CI, 1.56-3.23) problems.

The effect of concurrent maternal depression on internalizing problems increased as child age increased.

“We found that children of mothers who were depressed before and after birth had more mental health problems because they share risk genes with their mother; however, spending time with a depressed mother in the preschool years can be harmful to the child's mental health,” Gjerde, said in a press release. “It is therefore important to reach these mothers as early as possible, and provide treatment.” – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.