Postpartum depression is a depressive disorder that many moms experience after giving birth to their baby. New research suggests mothers with more profound or prolonged postpartum depression may convey a risk of subsequent depression to their children.
In the study, researchers have found that severe and prolonged postnatal depression can influence the likelihood of depression in children from birth until age 16.
The study is the first to demonstrate that the effects of maternal depression on the likelihood of the child to develop depression may begin as early as infancy.
Lynne Murray, Ph.D. and her colleagues assessed 100 mothers (ranging from 18 to 42 years of age) — 58 with postpartum depression — and the likelihood of their children to develop depression over a 16 year period.
The authors identified first-time mothers with depression at two months postpartum, along with a group of non-depressed women, and evaluated the mothers and their children at 18 months, and 5, 8, 13, and 16 years of age.
At each assessment, marital conflict was assessed using a combination of interview and questionnaire tools.
Murray and colleagues discovered children of depressed mothers were at substantially increased risk for depression; by age 16, more that 40 percent could be classified as depressed. On average, the first onset of depression happened at age 14.
The study also found that in the years before the onset of depression, the child’s attachment to their mother was impaired (beginning in infancy) and children presented lower ego and resiliency during ages 5 to 8.
Marital conflict and further maternal depression, extending beyond the postnatal period, were also significantly associated with the offspring’s lifetime depression.
The researchers concluded, “The substantially raised risk for depression among offspring of postnatally depressed mothers underlines the importance of screening for PND and of delivering early interventions.”
The new study is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).