The impact of maternal prenatal and postnatal anxiety on children's emotional problems: a systematic review

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2019 Feb;28(2):257-280. doi: 10.1007/s00787-018-1173-5. Epub 2018 Jun 15.


Maternal mental health problems during pregnancy and the postnatal period are a major public health issue. Despite evidence that symptoms of both depression and anxiety are common during pregnancy and the postpartum, the impact of maternal anxiety on the child has received relatively less attention than the impact of maternal depression. Furthermore, the evidence base for the direct impact of maternal anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum on children's emotional outcomes lacks cohesion. The aim of this systematic review is to summarise the empirical evidence regarding the impact of maternal prenatal and postnatal anxiety on children's emotional outcomes. Overall, both maternal prenatal and postnatal anxiety have a small adverse effect on child emotional outcomes. However, the evidence appears stronger for the negative impact of prenatal anxiety. Several methodological weaknesses make conclusions problematic and replication of findings is required to improve the identification of at-risk parents and children with appropriate opportunities for intervention and prevention.

Keywords: Child; Development; Emotion; Maternal anxiety; Perinatal.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affective Symptoms / diagnosis
  • Affective Symptoms / etiology*
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology
  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis
  • Child Behavior Disorders / etiology*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Depression, Postpartum / diagnosis
  • Depression, Postpartum / psychology*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology*
  • Problem Behavior / psychology*