Objective: To investigate whether prenatal, postnatal, and/or current maternal depressive symptoms are associated with low level of psychosocial functioning or high level of emotional/behavioral problems in school-age children.
Method: As part of a prospective longitudinal study, maternal depressive symptoms were screened with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale prenatally, postnatally, and when the children were 8 to 9 years old. The original sample of 349 mothers was collected in 1989-1990 in Tampere, Finland. Of the 270 mother-child pairs at the latest stage of the study in 1997-1998, 188 mother-child pairs participated and 147 were included. The associations between maternal depressive symptoms at different points in time and the level of children's psychosocial functioning and problems reported on the Child Behavior Checklist and Teacher's Report Form were examined.
Results: Children's low social competence and low adaptive functioning were associated with concurrent maternal depressive symptoms. Maternal postnatal depressive symptoms predicted low social competence. The presence of prenatal depressive symptoms in the mother was a strong predictor of child's high externalizing and total problem levels (odds ratio 3.1, 95% confidence interval 1.1-8.9 and odds ratio 8.5, 95% confidence interval 2.7-26.5). Prenatal as well as recurrent maternal depressive symptoms were associated with the least favorable child outcome.
Conclusions: Maternal depressive symptomatology at any time, especially prenatally, is a risk factor for the child's well-being. This should be noted already in prenatal care. The timing and the recurrence of maternal depressive symptoms affect the outcome for the child.