Objective: The objective of the study was to characterize the developmental sequence of pre- and postnatal risk factors for inattention-hyperactivity symptoms in preschoolers.
Materials and methods: Longitudinal data came from a French population based birth cohort study (EDEN; N = 1311 mother-child pairs followed from the pregnancy onwards). Inattention-hyperactivity symptoms were assessed with the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire when participating children were 3 years of age. Potential risk factors were classified in four domains (fetal exposures and child somatic characteristics, child temperament, child neurodevelopmental status, psychosocial environment) and four periods (before pregnancy, prenatal/birth, infancy, toddlerhood). Their role as potential moderator or mediator was tested with path analysis to determine the developmental sequence.
Results: A low family socioeconomic status before pregnancy was the main environmental risk factor for inattention-hyperactivity symptoms at 3 years, and its effect occurred via two pathways. The first was a risk pathway, where lower SES was associated with higher maternal depression and anxiety during pregnancy; then to higher maternal and child distress and dysregulation in infancy; and in turn to higher levels of inattention-hyperactivity at 3 years. The second was a protective pathway, where higher SES was associated with longer duration of breastfeeding during infancy; then to better child neurodevelopmental status in toddlerhood; and in turn to lower levels of inattention-hyperactivity at 3 years.
Discussion: This study identified psychosocial factors at several developmental periods that represent potential targets for preventing the emergence of inattention-hyperactivity symptoms in early childhood.