Timing of first exposure to maternal depression and adolescent emotional disorder in a national Canadian cohort

PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33422. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033422. Epub 2012 Mar 26.


Objective: Correlations have been reported between behavioral and cognitive outcomes in adolescence and exposure to maternal depression during the first postpartum year, but the effects of timing of maternal depression during subsequent exposure periods have rarely been controlled for. This study aims to methodically investigate the importance of timing of initial exposure to maternal depression with respect to adolescent mental health outcomes.

Methods: This study used data on 937 children from the National Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth (NLSCY), a nationally-representative longitudinal survey established in 1994 by Statistics Canada. Ordinal logistic regression was used to confirm associations between adolescent emotional disorder (at 12-13 years) and initial exposure to maternal depression during 2-year intervals from birth to adolescence. Following their initial exposure to maternal depression, children were dropped from subsequent cycles. Stressful life events, chronic health conditions, maternal alcohol use, maternal marital status, gender, and SES were included as covariates.

Results: The results indicated that adolescents who were initially exposed to maternal depression between the ages of 2-3 years and 4-5 years had a two-fold increase in odds of emotional disorder. No increase in odds was observed in those initially exposed during the first postpartum year or later in childhood.

Conclusions: The results demonstrate that a sensitive period of initial exposure to maternal depression may occur between the ages of 2 and 5, and not during the first year of life indicated by previous research. These findings are congruent with the literature on emotional and behavioral development in early childhood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / physiology
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology
  • Adolescent Development / physiology*
  • Adolescent Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Affective Symptoms / physiopathology*
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology
  • Age Factors
  • Canada
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depression, Postpartum / physiopathology*
  • Depression, Postpartum / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Time Factors