Mom's Depression Impacts Others Too

Depression among mothers linked to growth differences in their children years later

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Mothers of young children who are experiencing depression may feel too overwhelmed to seek help for their mental health. However, doing so could be good for their children too.

A recent study has found a link between children's height and their mother's depression when the children were babies.

Children were a little more likely to be shorter than others their age if their mothers were depressed in their infancy.

"Get help for depression."

The study, led by Pamela J. Surkan, ScD, of the Departments of International Health and Population within Family and Reproductive Health at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, aimed to find out how a mother's depression might be related to her child's development.

The researchers used data from children enrolled in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort. Approximately 10,700 children are enrolled in that group.

Response rates for the surveys used in this study were 74 percent when the children were 9 months old, 63 percent at 4 years old and 58 percent at 5 years old.

The researchers therefore looked at the 6,550 children for whom growth data and responses about depression from the mothers was available.

Children part of multiple births, such as twins or triplets, were not included in the study. Those with extremely slow or stunted growth were also excluded.

This left data about 6,450 children for the analysis at age 4 and 5,000 children at age 5.

The researchers looked at the mother's responses to their depression symptoms when their children were infants and compared these to the children height and weight at ages 4 and 5.

When the children were 9 months old, 24 percent of the mothers reported symptoms of mild depression and 17 percent had moderate or severe depressive symptoms.

When the children of those mothers with moderate or severe depression were 4 years old, they had a 40 percent greater chance of being in the lowest 10th percentile for height than children of moms who had no or little depression.

They were also 48 percent more likely to be in the lowest 10 percent for height at their age when they were 5.

There did not appear to be any difference among the children in terms of their weight or their ratio of weight to height among those with depressed moms and non-depressed moms.

The researchers adjusted their findings to account for various differences among the women in terms of their demographics, their households and their children's demographics.

These included household income, food security, home ownership, family structure and the mother's age, race/ethnicity, employment, pre-pregnancy weight, weight gain during pregnancy, smoking status during and after pregnancy and number of other children.

For the kids, they took into account the children's gender, birth weight, age, the week of pregnancy when they were born, their health status and whether they had been breastfed.

"Maternal depressive symptoms during infancy may affect physical growth in early childhood," the authors wrote. They suggested that early identification of depression among women and treatment may prevent their children's slightly increased risk for being shorter than their peers for their age.

The authors proposed a number of reasons that might explain this association.

"Maternal depressive symptoms are associated with insecure attachment in children and with poor parenting behaviors and feeding practices," they wrote, citing past research. "Maternal depression is also associated with increased stress response in children, which may affect growth."

The study was published September 10 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration Maternal and Child Health Research Program. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 26, 2012
Last Updated:
September 28, 2012