Maternal trait anxiety, depression and life event stress in pregnancy: relationships with infant temperament

Early Hum Dev. 2005 Feb;81(2):183-90. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2004.07.001.


Aims: To assess whether links exist between maternal trait anxiety (STAI), perceived life event (LE) stress and depression (Edinburgh scale) and infant temperament.

Study design and subjects: Women in the third trimester of pregnancy returned psychological self-report questionnaires; infant temperament was evaluated at 4 and 6 months by maternal and paternal report, while depression (concurrent Edinburgh scale) was also assessed at four and six months. As data were returned inconsistently at 4 and 6 months, we combined these two time points for simplicity of reporting and optimisation of numbers.

Results: Univariate logistic regressions on 970 subjects indicated that the pregnancy STAI (>40) scores were associated with 2.56- and 1.57-fold increases (maternal and paternal, respectively), in the odds of "difficult" infant temperament at 4 or 6 months. Concurrent Edinburgh scores (OR of 3.06 and 2.64 for maternal reports, respectively) were also predictive of infant temperament. Age, education, income, marital status, obstetric complications, infant gender and prematurity were not predictive of infant temperament. In stepwise multiple logistic regression analyses, the antenatal trait STAI (odds ratio 1.96) significantly predicted maternal reports of "difficult" temperament at 4 or 6 months independent of both antenatal and postnatal depression scores. There were similar trends for paternal reports of "difficult" temperament but these were not significant. Antenatal depression and perceived LE stress were not predictive of temperament. Finally, women (N=14) reporting domestic violence (DV) in pregnancy had highly significant increased Edinburgh and STAI scores.

Conclusions: Maternal trait anxiety was predictive of "difficult" infant temperament, independent of "concurrent" depression and key sociodemographic and obstetric risk factors. These findings, while needing replication using objective measures of infant temperament, suggest that antenatal psychological interventions aimed at minimising anxiety may optimize infant temperament outcomes. There may be some benefit in shaping specific interventions to women reporting specific risk factors such as DV or past abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third
  • Prospective Studies
  • Regression Analysis
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Temperament*