European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 24, Issue 10, pp 1233–1244 | Cite as

The emotional–behavioural functioning of children exposed to maternal depressive symptoms across pregnancy and early childhood: a prospective Australian pregnancy cohort study

  • Rebecca Giallo
  • Hannah Woolhouse
  • Deirdre Gartland
  • Harriet Hiscock
  • Stephanie Brown
Original Contribution


Children exposed to maternal depression during pregnancy and in the postnatal period are at increased risk of a range of health, wellbeing and development problems. However, few studies have examined the course of maternal depressive symptoms in the perinatal period and beyond on children’s wellbeing. The present study aimed to explore the relationship between both the severity and chronicity of maternal depressive symptoms across the early childhood period and children’s emotional–behavioural difficulties at 4 years of age. Data from over 1,085 mothers and children participating in a large Australian prospective pregnancy cohort were used. Latent class analysis identified three distinct trajectories of maternal depressive symptoms from pregnancy to 4 years postpartum: (1) no or few symptoms (61 %), (2) persistent subclinical symptoms (30 %), and (3) increasing and persistently high symptoms (9 %). Regression analyses revealed that children of mothers experiencing subclinical and increasing and persistently high symptoms were at least two times more likely to have emotional–behavioural difficulties than children of mothers reporting minimal symptoms, even after accounting for known risk factors for poor outcomes for children. These findings challenge policy makers and health professionals to consider how they can tailor care and support to mothers experiencing a broader spectrum of depressive symptoms across the early childhood period, to maximize opportunities to improve both short-and long-term maternal and child health outcomes.


Maternal depression Child outcomes Emotional–behavioural functioning Postnatal Early childhood 



This study was approved by the following human research ethics committees: La Trobe University (2002/38); Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne (2002/23); Southern Health, Melbourne (2002-099B; Angliss Hospital, Melbourne (2002), Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne (27056A). This research was supported by project grants from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (numbers ID191222, ID433006 and ID1048829), a VicHealth Public Health Research Fellowship (2002-2006), a National Health and Medical Research Council Career Development Award (ID491205) and ARC Future Fellowship (IDFT110101036) awarded to S.J.B, and the Victorian Government’s Operational Infrastructure Support Program. We are extremely grateful to the women taking part in the study; to members of the Maternal Health Study Collaborative Group; and to members of the Maternal Health Study research team who have contributed to data collection and coding.

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca Giallo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Hannah Woolhouse
    • 1
  • Deirdre Gartland
    • 1
  • Harriet Hiscock
    • 1
    • 3
    • 5
  • Stephanie Brown
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Healthy Mothers Healthy Families Research Group, Murdoch Childrens Research InstituteW5, Royal Children’s HospitalParkvilleAustralia
  2. 2.RMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.Department of PaediatricsThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  4. 4.General Practice and Primary Health Care Academic CentreThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  5. 5.Centre for Community Child HealthThe Royal Children’s HospitalParkvilleAustralia

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