According to a study published in Depression and Anxiety, maternal depressive symptoms during pregnancy, in the first year postpartum, and in the offspring’s early childhood are associated with poorer child neurodevelopment outcomes.
Furthermore, children of mothers with the most chronic and severe depressive symptoms during pregnancy have been shown to have the most neurodevelopmental disadvantages.
In this large prospective study, researchers evaluated 2231 Finnish mothers to determine whether maternal depressive symptoms during and after pregnancy were associated with lower developmental milestones in their children.
Participating mothers completed the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale biweekly up to 14 times during pregnancy and twice up to 12 months postpartum. When their child was between the age of 1.9 and 5.7, each mother completed the Beck Depression Inventory-II on their concurrent depressive symptoms and Ages and Stages Questionnaire on child developmental milestones.
Results revealed that maternal biweekly depressive symptoms during pregnancy were highly correlated (P <.001). Likewise, trimester-weighted mean depressive symptoms during pregnancy were significantly correlated with symptoms up to 12 months after pregnancy (P <.001) and in the offspring’s early childhood (P <.001).
Higher maternal depressive symptoms during pregnancy were also associated with lower scores on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire in terms of fine motor, communication, problem solving, and personal/social skills (all scores P <.001).
And ultimately, researchers determined that when treated as continuous scores, maternal depressive symptoms during pregnancy, post-partum, and in the offspring’s early childhood predicted lower child developmental milestone score independently of maternal depressive symptoms at all time points.
There were several limitations to this study, including a lack of follow-up from nearly half of the sample population, as well as potential selection bias. Because of these and other limitations, researchers were unable to generalize their findings.
However, researchers said the results of the study suggest “that the effects of depressive symptoms during and after pregnancy on child neurodevelopment are additive: children of women with the most chronic and severe depressive symptoms during and after pregnancy have the most neurodevelopmental disadvantages.”
Tuovinen S, Lahti-Pulkkinen M, Girchenko P, et al. Maternal depressive symptoms during and after pregnancy and child developmental milestones [published online April 18, 2018]. Depress Anxiety. doi:10.1002/da.22756