UCLA-Led Study Finds Increased Levels of Depression During Pregnancy Impacts Children’s Behaviors

A new study led by Gabrielle R. Rinne, a graduate student in psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, finds that children whose mothers experience rising levels of depression from the period before pregnancy until the months just after giving birth are at greater risk of developing emotional, social, and academic problems during their youth. The seven-year study, which tracked mothers and their offspring from preconception until the children were 5 years old, is the first to demonstrate how changes in mothers’ level of depression over time may impact early childhood behavior and emotional well-being, according to the authors.

The women in the study, all of whom already had a young child, were followed through a subsequent pregnancy and were interviewed on four occasions about their symptoms of depression — once before becoming pregnant, twice during pregnancy, and again approximately three months after their baby’s birth — with researchers tracking how these symptoms changed over time. Just under 75 percent of the women reported low symptoms of depression that didn’t change over the study period, while 12 percent had low symptoms that significantly increased and 7 percent had persistently high symptoms.

When their children were 4, or preschool age, the mothers were asked to describe in detail their child’s temperament and behavior — particularly their experiences of emotional distress and their ability to regulate their emotions. The four-year-olds were also given a visual assignment con a computer that measured their ability to concentrate and inhibit attention to surrounding stimuli.

Children of mothers whose depression had increased from preconception through the postpartum period performed significantly worse on the computer task than those whose mothers had reported consistently low symptoms of depression. Interestingly, there were no differences in performance between kids whose mothers had experienced consistently high depression and those whose mothers had consistently low depression.

“Our findings suggest that increases in mother’s symptoms of depression from preconception to postpartum contribute to children’s lower attention and behavioral control, which can raise the risk of problems across the life span,” notes Rinne. The study’s findings, Rinne added, support “the importance of comprehensive mental health care at multiple periods of the reproductive life course,” beginning even before pregnancy and continuing afterward — especially for mothers who are feeling elevated level of distress at any point.

The full study, “Maternal Depressive Symptom Trajectories From Preconception Through Postpartum: Associations with Offspring Developmental Outcomes in Early Childhood,” was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


RSSComments (0)

Leave a Reply