Mothers’ prenatal mental health can lead to poor psychosocial outcomes in children

by Freya Lucas

January 22, 2019

Women who are depressed before conception are more likely to have children with poor psychosocial outcomes, University of Queensland (UQ) researchers have found, with Dr Katrina Moss, from UQ’s School of Public Health saying pre-conception depression was “the first link in a chain of risk”.  


“Women who are depressed before conception are more likely to have depression after birth, which can have a negative influence on parenting,” Dr Moss said.


“Their children are more likely to feel angry or worried, not get along with others, not smile or laugh, or have difficulty paying attention and keeping up at school.”


According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in five Australian mothers experience depression, making it a significant health concern. For those working in early childhood education and care (ECEC) the findings may impact on the range and types of support offered to women and families in the event they experience depression or depressive episodes.


Dr Moss recommended that women planning to grow their family should add mental health to a pre-conception checklist, along with more well-known factors like stopping smoking and drinking, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising.


Australian guidelines recommend mental health screening for women before and after pregnancy, but health professionals could start these conversations with women when they start trying to conceive,” Dr Moss said.


Researchers combined survey data on children’s development from the Mothers and their Children’s Health (MatCH) study with more than 20 years of longitudinal data on mothers’ mental health from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health.


The research is published in Archives of Women’s Mental Health