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Addressing prenatal depression is important because it may impact the mother-child relationship even before birth.
A new study has found a link between mothers’ prenatal depression, reduced sensitivity of parenting two years after the birth and behavior problems of two year olds. Boys’ behavior appears to be more affected by less sensitive maternal parenting than girls’ behavior. These findings reinforce earlier research demonstrating that young boys may be more affected by problematic parenting than young girls. It also supports prior research showing that depressed mothers may be more negative and intrusive with their infant sons than with their daughters.
The researchers also found that when considering both prenatal depression and maternal depression two years after the birth, prenatal depression was a stronger predictor of less sensitive parenting, particularly for mothers of boys.
Prenatal depression could lead to neurological changes in mothers that affect later sensitivity towards their babies.
The study involved 196 young low-income African American mothers from a large city in USA. The researchers, Dr. Renee Edwards and Dr. Sydney Hans, measured depressive symptoms during pregnancy and when the children were 24 months old. They also looked at infant medical records and, at 24 months, observed the mother and child interacting and obtained a report from the mothers on their children’s behavior.
Edwards RC & Hans SL (2016), Prenatal depressive symptoms and toddler behavior problems: The role of maternal sensitivity and child sex, Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 47.5