11:11pm Monday 20 January 2020

Prenatal depression in mothers is risk factor for depression in children as adults

Depression in late adolescence is a public health issue worldwide and identifying early-life risk factors would be important to guide prevention and intervention efforts, according to the study background.

Dr Rebecca Pearson from Bristol’s School of Social and Community Medicine and colleagues examined possible associations between prenatal and postnatal depression in women and later depression of their children at age 18. Researchers analysed a UK community-based study population with data from more than 4,500 parents and their adolescent children.

Study findings indicate that children were more likely to have depression at age 18 if their mothers were depressed during the pregnancy, where depression was defined as increases in prenatal (also known as antenatal) maternal depression scores measured on self-reported depression questionnaires. Postnatal depression was also a risk factor among mothers with low education because their children were also more likely to have depression based on increases in depression scores, according to the study.

“The findings have important implications for the nature and timing of interventions aimed at preventing depression in the offspring of depressed mothers. In particular, the findings suggest that treating depression in pregnancy, irrespective of background, may be most effective,” the study concludes. 

Further information:


Maternal Depression During Pregnancy and the Postnatal Period: Risks and Possible Mechanisms for Offspring Depression at Age 18 Years, (JAMA Psychiatry. Published online October 9, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.2163.

This study was supported by grants from the Wellcome Trust, the National Institutes of Health and the United Kingdom Medical Research Council.

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