Course of Mothers’ Depressive Symptoms Can Predict Child Behavior

Children of depressed mothers are at increased risk for many different behavioral and mental health issues. Although not all mothers experience depression, a high percentage of mothers do experience some mood fluctuations after giving birth or some degree of postpartum depression. Depression severity has been studied in relation to childhood development at length. However, less is known about the trajectory of symptoms and if the chronicity of depressive symptoms has a larger impact on child behavior and development than the severity of symptoms.

To delve deeper into this area, Rolieke A.M. Cents of the Generation R. Study Group at Erasmus University Medical Centre in the Netherlands conducted a study involving 4,167 mothers and their children. He assessed the mothers’ depressive symptoms in their ninth month of pregnancy and again two, six, and 36 months after the children were born. Cents then gathered self-reports from either mothers or fathers highlighting their children’s behaviors at age three. Cents found that although symptom severity did fluctuate throughout the three years, the trajectory of depressive symptoms was a much stronger indicator of problem behavior in the children.

Overall, the majority (88%) of the mothers experienced low or no depressive symptoms, with 54% reporting low and 34% reporting no symptoms at all. Of the remaining women, 11% had moderate symptom trajectories and 1.5% had high or severe trajectories. It was these women who also had children with high levels of problematic behaviors, regardless of whether that behavior was reported by the mother or the father. Cents also found that even though many of the women experienced some increases in depressive symptoms during the first six months after giving birth, these increases were much more significant in the high-trajectory mothers. Overall, these results suggest that it is not only the symptom severity that impact how a child of a depressed mother will develop, but also the trajectory of the symptoms over time. Cent believes that studying trajectories can provide valuable information that cannot be obtained by looking only at severity. “Moreover, trajectories can help identifying clinically depressed mothers who are possible candidates for early interventions,” added Cent.

R, A. M. Cents, et al. Trajectories of maternal depressive symptoms predict child problem behaviour: The Generation R Study. Psychological medicine 43.1 (2013): 13-25. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

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  • madeleine h

    madeleine h

    March 8th, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    At what point are we going to look at the state of how a mother is feeling and recognize that to seek help has to be something that she is fully invested in and not something that is thrust upon her. I understand that there could be serious ramifications for having a mom with severe depression and that this could impact how the children grow and thrive. But on the other hand I get kind of worried about whose job it is to seek out help and treatment. Hasn’t the underlying thought always been that more good is going to be achieved when the person who needs help realizes that need and not that someone is telling them what they need to do? I think that a large part of this intervention, if this is indeed the right method, has to come from close friends and families who are the most aware of the situation and not from the outside.

  • ben


    March 9th, 2013 at 10:56 PM

    well I think its imperative that there is more proactive work in this area.depression especially in new mothers affects not just them but the child and the entire family if you look at it.

    one of the things I think can help is showing how even some depression can affect the child.that is sure to get people to do whatever it takes to reduce depression,to take a proactive step towards healing.

  • Ali


    May 2nd, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    @madeleine h – i think it is the primary physician who should identify the women at risk during the prenatal checkups. The GP is the one who comes into direct contact with the patient and can monitor and take steps at the right time.Secondly, by increasing awareness about the maternal depression problems, women can be educated so they look after their mental health.

    @ben – definitely a proactive approach is always better and in this way women at risk can be identified and given prompt treatment,limiting the harmful effects of depression on them and their children.

    I think lifestyle modifications, better stress management and self cbt techniques if adopted by the women at risk can greatly help fight depression.

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