Associations between maternal stress during pregnancy and offspring internalizing and externalizing problems in childhood

Int J Ment Health Syst. 2014 Nov 18:8:44. doi: 10.1186/1752-4458-8-44. eCollection 2014.


Background: Maternal psychological health during pregnancy has been associated with offspring psychopathology. However, it is uncertain whether these associations are mediated by the postpartum depression and related child-rearing factors. Therefore, we examined the associations between prenatal and postnatal factors and internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems in childhood, focusing on maternal psychological health in school-aged children in Korea.

Findings: The current study included 1,003 children (580 boys, 423 girls, mean age 9.05 ± 0.70 years, age range 8-11 years) recruited from schools in five Korean cities. Children's internalizing and externalizing problems were assessed by the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). The parents of the children completed structured questionnaires on perinatal factors. Among 1,003 children, 44 had internalizing problems (IP) and 30 had externalizing problems (EP). When comparing children with IP (n = 44) and without IP (n = 959), severe maternal stress during pregnancy (OR3.36, 95% CI 1.80-6.25) and postpartum depression (OR3.19, 95% CI 1.36-7.53) showed a significant association with the IP. When comparing children with EP (n = 30) and without EP (n = 973), low family income (OR2.19, 95% CI 1.05-4.56), unwanted pregnancy (OR2.76, 95% CI 1.28-5.95) and severe maternal stress during pregnancy (OR2.69, 95% CI 1.29-5.61) with the EP. Only maternal stress during pregnancy was significantly associated with the IP after controlling for postpartum depression and with the EP after controlling for family income and unwanted pregnancy.

Conclusion: This study suggests the importance of maternal psychological health during perinatal period on children's mental health. Further prospective studies in a larger sample are required to confirm our findings.

Keywords: Externalizing problem; Internalizing problems; Perinatal risk factors.