Associations Between Maternal Depression, Support, and Cognitive Development in Offspring

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Low maternal support was more strongly linked to maternal depression as children got older.
Low maternal support was more strongly linked to maternal depression as children got older.

Mothers with severe depression provided less learning-material and emotional support to their children. Furthermore, low maternal support was more strongly linked to maternal depression as children got older, according to a study published in Child Development.

The study examined 2 factors that contribute to cognitive development: learning-material and emotional support, and their respective associations with maternal depression. Study participants included 875 pairs of Chilean mothers and children, who were originally recruited for a randomized, controlled, iron-deficiency anemia preventative trial.

The pairs were evaluated when the child was 1, 5, 10, and 16 years old to see the influence of maternal depression on parental investment and support, and the resultant cognitive skills of the children. The learning-material and emotional-verbal support of mothers to their children were assessed using the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment Inventory (HOME), and the children's cognitive abilities were assessed using the Mental Development Index (MDI).

Study findings indicate that more frequent depressive symptoms seemed to reduce the mothers' emotional and material investment in their children, which in turn limited their children's cognitive development.

Additional findings indicate that these resulting cognitive limitations also reduced the mothers' emotional and material investment in their children, which led to higher rates of maternal depression. Over time, the mother's low support could be increasingly linked to the degree of maternal depression.

Study investigators concluded that considering how widespread maternal depression is, it is crucial to identify and treat the condition early.  These findings also suggest that there are long-term adverse effects of maternal depression on child development.

Reference

Wu V, East P, Delker E, et al. Associations among mothers' depression, emotional and learning‐material support to their child, and children's cognitive functioning: a 16‐year longitudinal study [published online April 17, 2018]. Child Dev. doi: 10.1111/cdev.13071

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