Researchers from Birkbeck College, University of London and King’s College London analysed data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of almost 14,000 mothers and their children born in Bristol, in and around 1991 and 1992.
They looked at the levels of anxiety and depression of 3,300 mothers and their children during and after pregnancy, and at seven and eight-years-old.
The findings revealed that children whose mothers experienced anxiety and depression during and after pregnancy were more likely to develop emotional, behavioural and verbal difficulties by the age of seven and eight.
This likelihood was increased if the mother suffering pre-natal anxiety and depression was a teenager, living in poverty or had a low educational attainment.
Of the mothers questioned, 14 per cent suffered from clinical depression and 17 per cent reported experiencing high-levels of anxiety during pregnancy. However, levels of depression had dropped by the time the child was one and a half years old.
Mothers who were anxious during pregnancy were twice as likely as those with depression to have children who developed internalising problems, which include anxiety and depression, whereas the children of depressed mothers developed externalising difficulties, such as ADHD, and experienced verbal difficulties.
The authors warn that the earlier in life a child encounters depression, the more likely they are to be affected by it.
Dr Edward Barker from Birkbeck College, University of London said, ‘The findings of our study suggest that both depression and anxiety, as well as risk associated to mental illness in the mother, are top level priorities for interventions that seek to decrease children’s inability to adjust to the demands and stresses of daily living.’
The research, The contribution of pre-natal and post-natal maternal anxiety and depression to child maladjustment , is published in the 8 August issue of the journal Depression and Anxiety.