The contribution of prenatal and postnatal maternal anxiety and depression to child maladjustment

Depress Anxiety. 2011 Aug;28(8):696-702. doi: 10.1002/da.20856. Epub 2011 Jul 18.


Background: The adverse effect of both pre- and post-natal maternal anxiety and depression on the development of offspring is shown by a large body of research. No published studies, however, have simultaneously: (i) controlled for co-occurring prenatal risks that may influence maternal prenatal anxiety and depression; (ii) compared the relative contributions of prenatal and postnatal maternal anxiety and depression on child functioning; and (iii) assessed a full range of child psychopathology and functioning to determine the relative effects of prenatal and postnatal anxiety and depression in the mother.

Method: Using 3,298 mother-offspring pairs, the authors examined these factors in a single-path analytic model. Measurements of maternal anxiety and depression were collected at two time points: 32 weeks prenatal and 1.5 years postnatal. Other prenatal risks were assessed between 8 and 32 weeks of gestation. Child outcomes included (a) ordered-categorical measures of DSM-IV externalizing and internalizing disorders, and (b) an assessment of verbal IQ.

Results: In both the prenatal and postnatal periods, maternal depression had a wider impact on different types of child maladjustment than maternal anxiety, which appeared more specific to internalizing difficulties in the child. Of note, prenatal risks were prospectively associated with child externalizing difficulties and verbal IQ, beyond the effects of prenatal and postnatal maternal anxiety and depression.

Conclusion: The present results suggest that addressing both maternal anxiety and depression, in the prenatal and postnatal periods-as well as associated risk factors-may be the most effective approach to prevent adverse outcomes in the offspring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adjustment Disorders / economics
  • Adjustment Disorders / etiology*
  • Adjustment Disorders / psychology
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / complications*
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Depression / complications*
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / economics
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / diagnosis
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / economics
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires