April 19, 2018
2 min read

Maternal depression negatively affects child’s cognitive development

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Patricia East

Mothers with more frequent depressive symptoms gave less emotional and learning-material support to their children, which negatively affected their child’s cognitive growth and development, according to study findings.

“Maternal depression has been consistently linked with children’s poor cognitive outcomes,” Patricia East, PhD, division of child development and community health, University of California, San Diego, and colleagues wrote. “Several studies have shown that maternal depression is associated with mothers’ lower investment in their child’s learning environment (ie, providing fewer age-appropriate toys or materials), which, in turn, links to children’s lower academic achievement and language scores.”

Researchers examined how both emotional and learning-material investment from mothers with depression mediated the association between their depressive symptoms and their children’s cognitive functioning as well as the inverse of these associations in a longitudinal study.

The investigators studied 875 Chilean mothers and their babies (n = 1,790) from middle or lower-middle class families when the children were aged 1, 5, 10 and 16 years. Mothers completed the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale via interview and children completed cognitive assessment at the four study time points. Using the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment Inventory, researchers separately examined the mother’s emotional-verbal and learning-material support provided to their child in their homes.

The results demonstrated that mother’s more frequent depressive symptoms during infancy were significantly related to children’s lower IQ at ages 5, 10 and 16 years, and that maternal

emotional-verbal support and learning-material support during infancy were strongly associated with children’s cognitive scores at these same time points.

Children with lower cognitive abilities at age 1 year received less learning-material support at age 5, which in turn led to mother’s more frequent depressive symptoms when their child was aged 10 years. Furthermore, children’s lower cognitive skills at age 5 years were related to mothers’ lower emotional-verbal responsiveness when their child was 10 years old, which, in turn, predicted mothers’ more frequent symptoms when their child was 16.

Analysis also showed that mothers’ more frequent depressive symptoms at child age 5 years were associated with mothers’ providing fewer learning materials, and mothers’ material support during child’s infancy and at age 10 affected their IQ. Children’s lower cognitive scores at age 1 were linked to fewer learning-material support at age 5 years, which led to lower scores at age 10 years. Moreover, mothers’ more frequent depressive symptoms when their child was 5 years old were connected to mothers’ lower learning-material investment when the child was 10, which led to higher levels of maternal depression at child age 16.

"The consistency and longevity of these results speak to the enduring effect that depression has on a mother's parenting and her child's development,” East said in a press release.

According to the press release, children in the study born to highly depressed mothers had an average verbal IQ score of 7.3 compared with an average score of 7.78 in children without depressed mothers.

"Although seemingly small, differences in IQ from 7.78 to 7.3 are highly meaningful in terms of children's verbal skills and vocabulary. Our study results show the long-term consequences that a child can experience due to chronic maternal depression,” East continued. "For health care providers, the results show that early identification, intervention and treatment of maternal depression are key. Providing resources to depressed moms will help them manage their symptoms in a productive way and ensure their children reach their full potential." – by Savannah Demko

Disclosures: East reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.