Perinatal anxiety and depressive symptoms and perception of child behavior and temperament in early motherhood

J Dev Orig Health Dis. 2021 Jun;12(3):513-522. doi: 10.1017/S2040174420000781. Epub 2020 Sep 10.


The perinatal period is a vulnerable time for the development of psychopathology, particularly mood and anxiety disorders. In the study of maternal anxiety, important questions remain regarding the association between maternal anxiety symptoms and subsequent child outcomes. This study examined the association between depressive and anxiety symptoms, namely social anxiety, panic, and agoraphobia disorder symptoms during the perinatal period and maternal perception of child behavior, specifically different facets of development and temperament. Participants (N = 104) were recruited during pregnancy from a community sample. Participants completed clinician-administered and self-report measures of depressive and anxiety symptoms during the third trimester of pregnancy and at 16 months postpartum; child behavior and temperament outcomes were assessed at 16 months postpartum. Child development areas included gross and fine motor skills, language and problem-solving abilities, and personal/social skills. Child temperament domains included surgency, negative affectivity, and effortful control. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses demonstrated that elevated prenatal social anxiety symptoms significantly predicted more negative maternal report of child behavior across most measured domains. Elevated prenatal social anxiety and panic symptoms predicted more negative maternal report of child effortful control. Depressive and agoraphobia symptoms were not significant predictors of child outcomes. Elevated anxiety symptoms appear to have a distinct association with maternal report of child development and temperament. Considering the relative influence of anxiety symptoms, particularly social anxiety, on maternal report of child behavior and temperament can help to identify potential difficulties early on in mother-child interactions as well as inform interventions for women and their families.

Keywords: anxiety symptoms; child development; child temperament; depressive symptoms; perinatal period.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Child Behavior
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Puerperal Disorders / psychology*
  • Temperament