Background: Factors that affect maternal mental health were studied when the children were 30 and 50 months old, and changes in the importance of these factors over time were analyzed. A specific aim was to elucidate the role of chronic strain related to children and child care-taking. This study follows up previous work on the influence of social class, strain and social support on maternal mental distress when the children were 18 months old.
Methods: The sample is population based, and 1,081 parents were invited to fill out questionnaires. Maternal mental distress was measured by the Hopkins Symptom Checklist (SCL-25). Multiple regression analyses were conducted at each time point and chi-square tests were used to analyze the changes between the estimated regression coefficients over time.
Results: Chronic strain related to children and child care-taking consistently predicted maternal mental distress. Among the specific child related strains, problems with child care-taking were significantly associated with maternal symptom levels at all time points. The importance of two specific child problem behaviors (activity level and the child being a worrier) on maternal mental health changed over time.
Limitations: Conclusions about causality can not be drawn based on cross-sectional analyses. The self-report measures used here may be biased by the current mood state.
Conclusions: Problems with child care arrangements and combining work and child care-taking are predictive of maternal mental health when the children are 18, 30 and 50 months old. The risk and protective factors found here may have implications for prevention and intervention.