Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 161–171 | Cite as

Associations Between Maternal Mental Health and Child Emotional and Behavioral Problems: Does Prenatal Mental Health Matter?

  • Julie A. LeisEmail author
  • Jon Heron
  • Elizabeth A. Stuart
  • Tamar Mendelson


This study examined associations between elevated symptoms of prenatal depression or anxiety and offspring emotional and behavioral problems during mid to late childhood taking into account the impact of later maternal mental health symptoms. The sample consisted of 2,891 women and their children (49 % male) from a prospective, community-based study, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Women completed measures of depressive (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) and anxious (Crown Crisp Experiential Index) symptoms at regular intervals beginning in pregnancy. Mothers and teachers assessed offspring emotional and behavioral problems using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire when children were 10–11 years old. Multivariable regression models were fit to address study hypotheses. Exposure to elevated symptoms of maternal depression during pregnancy was associated with increased total offspring emotional and behavioral problems, even after controlling for later maternal mental health problems and a range of sociodemographic and psychosocial characteristics, according to mothers’ but not teachers’ reports. Similarly, children exposed to elevated symptoms of maternal anxiety during pregnancy were reported to have increased total emotional and behavioral problems by mothers but not by teachers. We found support for modest associations between elevated symptoms of maternal depression and anxiety during the prenatal period and certain domains of offspring emotional and behavioral problems in mid to late childhood above and beyond the impact of later maternal mental health problems. These findings highlight the need for additional clinical and research attention to the prenatal period and to both maternal depression and anxiety.


Prenatal depression Prenatal anxiety Emotional and behavioral problems ALSPAC 



We are extremely grateful to all the families who took part in this study and the whole ALSPAC team. The UK Medical Research Council (Grant ref: 74882), the Wellcome Trust (Grant ref: 076467), and the University of Bristol provide core support for ALSPAC.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie A. Leis
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jon Heron
    • 2
  • Elizabeth A. Stuart
    • 3
  • Tamar Mendelson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PediatricsJohns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.School of Social and Community MedicineUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  3. 3.Department of Mental HealthJohns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA

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