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Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Effect of Maternal Depression on Child Development


Postpartum depression can occur in mother during the postnatal period and can extend into longer periods. The postpartum depression can cause distressed mood, weariness, loss of appetite, loss of normal sleep patterns, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in mothers. The chance of women with postpartum depression, to experience depression in future is up by 50 to 60 %. Women with a history of mood depressions, or a family history with psychological disorders have a high chance of suffering from depression. Some of the other reasons for the postpartum depression are, stress factors such as negative life incidents, poor marital relationships, having a physically disabled child or with mental disabilities, lack of social support, drug abuse, and hostile living conditions. Compared to the depressions which occur for regular individuals, postpartum depression tends to be milder, with lower levels of anxiety and agitation. The effects of postpartum depression on a child is not confined to infancy. The effects can be seen even in a school aged child or even in the adolescent stages.

Like in any health issues, the most effective way of containing the postpartum depression is by preventing its occurrence. Education sessions should be imparted to the mothers and pregnant women for helping them prepare to face the challenges of parenting. Development of a strong mother-child bond is absolutely necessary for the healthy development of a child. Psychotherapy sessions, interventions to improve the parenting skills and maternal sensitivity are available to improve the conditions of  mothers who suffer from maternal depression. Home visiting by health workers and nurses and analyzing the situations along with giving expert advice can also help the effected mothers.


Types of effects for maternal depression

A mother’s responsive and sensitive care is crucial for children’s optimal development. According to some available data about 13% of women experience maternal depression problems. Maternal depression, also known as prenatal depression make the mothers more lax, inconsistent and disengaged with their child. This impaired parenting is of prime concern during children’s early years when the mother's care and stimulation is required for the development of the child. As a result, such improper and impaired parenting can hinder the early development of child. Maternal depression is of great social concern, and effective intervention approaches are required to prevent or reduce its negative impact on child's development. The maternal depression is associated with children’s developmental problems including impaired socio-emotional, cognitive and behavioral functioning.

Socio-emotional functioning

Children of depressed mother are more likely to express negative effects. Such children find it quite difficult to  control their anger. They tend to have an insecure attachment and poor interpersonal skills. Experiencing high stress level is another characteristic of such children


Cognitive functioning

Children of the depressed mothers also show impairment in cognitive development. Such children show less advanced language development . The academic skills of the child tend to suffer. They have a lower self-esteem, and display other cognitive vulnerabilities like depression or other similar disorders.

Behavioral functioning

At the behavioral level, children of depressed mothers are characterized as having increased sleep problems and have less control over their anger and aggressive behavior. They are found to be less cooperative and are less active. They are also at heighten risk of developing internalizing (e.g., depression) and externalizing (e.g., aggressive behavior) problem behaviors in comparison to children of non depressed mothers.

Better social and home environment can help in reducing the effects of maternal depression. The paternal guidance and care can improve the conditions of the child. In contrast, the conflicts between parents can further degrade the conditions of children who are already victims of maternal depressions

Effect of maternal depression on infants

Active interaction of infants and mother is absolutely necessary for the development of infants. Depressed mothers display some disordered interaction with the infant. These interactions can be hostile or unresponsive type. In case of mother's hostile behavior, the infant experience anger and they turn away from mother to avoid the hostility and develop an angry and protective style of adjustment. The unresponsive mothers on the other hand, are unresponsive to the child's needs and activities. The children in such a situation, due to a lack of support and ineffectiveness from the mother's side, finds it difficult to cope with the conditions and challenges, thus becoming more withdrawn and laxative in character. The children need the guidance and soothing presence of parents to develop ways to regulate their emotions. The infants ate unable to regulate their emotions by themselves. The cognitive development of Infants of  depressed mothers is also affected adversely. Such infants  show patterns of abnormal behavior and arousal. Their ability to keep clam and perform non social learning tasks is affected adversely.

Effects of maternal depression on preschool children

Depressed mothers fail to imbibe the pressure felt by a child. They fail to effectively solve problems faced by the children or improve their mental regulations. The child cannot rely on the mother for getting ample support or finding a viable solution for their problems. The studies show that the victim children were passive in nature. They showed less maturity and autonomous behavior. Such children are more vulnerable to internalizing and externalizing problems . Children of depressed mothers have low interaction sessions and they tend to respond adversely even to friendly approaches. Their interest for physical play and engagements are minimal.

Studies shows that children who experience the insensitive maternal interactions shows poor cognitive development and functioning. According to some recent studies boys are found to be more affected by the mother's untoward mental health conditions and interactions. Some other concerned areas of cognitive development, such as cognitive-linguistic functioning, ability of perception and performances are also found to be adversely affected.

Effect of maternal depression on school age children

The child's adjustment capabilities depended on the severity of maternal depression. The children of depressed mothers show increased depression, anxiety and conduct disorders. The studies showed that the risk of psychopathology in affected mother's children is very high compared to others. The emotional and mental problems in mothers affect the learning and academic performance of the children. Such children seems to develop attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) . The fact was discovered through a detailed study in children of age group 4 to 17 years. The affected mother's child shows lower IQ levels, attention problems and difficulties in mathematical reasoning . They displayed a requirement for special education and care. In addition, the boys are found to be more affected by these adverse situations.

Effect of maternal depression on adolescent

The adolescent age of a person is the transitional period. It is transition from childhood to adulthood. There is an increased need of guidance and control during this phase of life. The inactive or hostile behavior of mother will have a negative influence on the person. The adolescents with a depressed parent shows high levels of depression and anxiety disorders. They can develop certain behavioral disorders such as drug abuse, usage of liquor, violent behaviors etc. Adolescent offspring's of depressed mothers developed phobias and panic disorders. The attack of depression was more common in the age group of 15 to 20. The learning disabilities like ADHD and lack of concentration seen in school children also persists in the adolescent age. So the academic performance suffer.

Risk factors

Contextual factors: Living conditions of a mother and child contributes to the depressing state of mind in mother. Often the conflicts between parents or stressful life events affects the mother's mental stability. The support of other family members and economic condition of family plays a major role in state of mind. Lack of education, social status and economic stability can affect the efficiency of parents.

Role of fathers : The children of depressed mothers tend to interact more with their father. In such situations paternal control and guidance is of prime importance. The child tries to draw confidence from their father. The father can act as a buffer between the child and the depressed mother. He can be helpful is imbibing some pressure and making the situation better.

Characteristics of the child: Sex differences have determined the depth of effects due to maternal depression. As described earlier, boys are found to be more affected by maternal depression. The temperamental factors of the child decides upon how much a child gets affected by the maternal depression. Children with better adaptive and cognitive development can effectively utilize the availability of other resources to negate the effects of maternal depressions. They can attract the attention of other family members and receive care and guidance. The child can realize the shortcomings or illness of their mother and make adaptations.

Treatment and  preventive methods

Preventive and Intervention Policies: To reduce the effects of maternal depression on the children preventive and intervention measures should be used. The parents should be educated about the positive benefits of a healthy pregnancy. They should imparted with knowledge and skills for child rearing and guidance. The recent researches emphasis on the importance of interventions that helps in improving the parenting skills and thereby improve the mother child interaction. The community workers and nurses can make a regular home visits to make the mothers more sensitive about their children's needs and development. They can increase the empathy and attachment of mother towards her child. They can help in improving paternal involvement to reduce the effects of maternal depression. The mothers who go through such depression phase should be given extra care and emotional support by other family members. The intervention practices have helped in making improvement in mental health and development of affected children. While the interventions are made, it should be considered that different policies and methods are required for different situations. So the methods should be flexible and dynamic.

Antidepressants: The use of antidepressants to treat the pregnant women should be done with utmost care. The chemicals can cause damage to the fetus and may cause health issues to the new born. The usual chemicals like tricyclic antidepressant can be replaced with less toxic selective serotonin retake inhibitors. The chemicals which are used for treatment should be imparted in maximum possible lowest of doses. The effect of chemicals used by mothers can be seen in the newborns as these chemicals pass on to the newborn from mother through breast feeding.

Role of Doctors: The maternal depression often go unnoticed and so they are left untreated. The pediatrician or doctors who examine the child and mother, can recognize the problems and risks at an early stage and take appropriate steps. The doctors can provide valuable advice and guidance to the depressed mothers along with medication to improve the condition.


Maternal depression has been found to affect the children of age group belonging to infancy up to adolescence. The lack of maternal care effects the mental development of child. The ability of child to cope with situations, problem solving capabilities, learning ability all gets affected. Early detection and intervention methods are found to be helpful in eliminating the depression in mothers. The most challenging factor about the maternal depression is that, it often goes unnoticed. A constant monitoring of health workers is required to alleviate the concerns raised by this issue. We cannot altogether put such mothers on medication, because it can affect the health of fetus.

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