Maternal Depressive Symptoms During and After Pregnancy and Psychiatric Problems in Children

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2017 Jan;56(1):30-39.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2016.10.007. Epub 2016 Oct 24.


Objective: Maternal depressive symptoms during pregnancy are associated with increased risk of psychiatric problems in children. A more precise understanding of the timing of the symptoms during pregnancy and their independence of other prenatal and postnatal factors in predicting child psychopathology risk is needed. We examined whether maternal depressive symptoms during pregnancy predict child psychiatric problems, whether these associations are trimester- or gestational-week-specific and/or independent of pregnancy disorders, and whether maternal depressive symptoms after pregnancy mediate or add to the prenatal effects.

Method: The study sample comprised 2,296 women and their children born in Finland between 2006-2010, participating in the prospective pregnancy cohort study Prediction and Prevention of Preeclampsia and Intrauterine Growth Restriction (PREDO) and followed up from 1.9 to 5.9 years of age. The women completed the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale biweekly between gestational weeks+days 12+0/13+6 and 38+0/39+6 or delivery. In the follow-up, they completed the Beck Depression Inventory-II and Child Behavior Checklist 1½-5.

Results: Maternal depressive symptoms during pregnancy predicted significantly higher internalizing (0.28 SD unit per SD unit increase [95% CI = 0.24-0.32]), externalizing (0.26 [0.23-0.30]), and total problems (0.31 [0.27-0.35]) in children. These associations were nonspecific to gestational week and hence pregnancy trimester, independent of pregnancy disorders, and independent of, although partially mediated by, maternal depressive symptoms after pregnancy. Psychiatric problems were greatest in children whose mothers reported clinically significant depressive symptoms across pregnancy trimesters and during and after pregnancy.

Conclusion: Maternal depressive symptoms during pregnancy predict increased psychiatric problems in young children. Preventive interventions from early pregnancy onward may benefit offspring mental health.

Keywords: antenatal; childhood mental health; depression; prospective study; psychiatric symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Behavior*
  • Child of Impaired Parents / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology*
  • Prospective Studies