Archives of Women's Mental Health

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 15–24 | Cite as

Maternal depressive symptoms and early childhood cognitive development: a review of putative environmental mediators

  • Marilyn N. AhunEmail author
  • Sylvana M. Côté
Review Article


Despite the abundance of research investigating the associations between maternal depressive symptoms (MDS) and children’s cognitive development, little is known about the putative mechanisms through which depressive symptoms are associated with children’s cognitive development. The aim of this review was to summarize the literature on family mediators (i.e., maternal parenting behaviors, mother-child interactions, and family stress) involved in this association in early childhood. The review includes seven studies, five longitudinal and two cross-sectional, which tested putative mediators of the association between MDS and children’s cognitive development. Studies were selected from online databases (PubMed, PsycNet) and manual searches. Only studies which quantitatively assessed associations between MDS in the postnatal period and child cognitive development in early childhood (i.e., 0–5 years) and included mediator variables were included in the review. Six out of seven studies identified mediating variables. The mediators included maternal responsiveness, parenting style, family dysfunction, the quality of the home environment, and maternal caregiving practices. Different mediators were identified across the reviewed studies. Maternal depressive symptoms are partly associated with child cognitive development via family processes and parenting practices. Various mediating processes are at play. Further research is needed on the role of maternal and paternal mental health and gene-environment correlations in this association. A better understanding of the mediating pathways is needed for the design of preventative intervention targeting specific family processes.


Maternal depressive symptoms Cognitive development Mediators Family environment 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université de Montréal (Department of Social and Preventive Medicine)MontrealCanada
  2. 2.CHU Sainte-Justine Mother and Child University Hospital CenterMontrealCanada
  3. 3.University of Bordeaux (INSERUM U1219 Bordeaux)BordeauxFrance

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