Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 149–164 | Cite as

Parenting Stress Plays a Mediating Role in the Prediction of Early Child Development from Both Parents’ Perinatal Depressive Symptoms

  • Eivor FredriksenEmail author
  • Tilmann von Soest
  • Lars Smith
  • Vibeke Moe


Maternal postnatal depression has been associated with a broad range of developmental risk among children. However, there has been less focus on disentangling the effects of pre- and postnatal depressive symptoms, as well as examining the symptoms of both parents. This study aims to investigate the separate effects of pre- and postnatal depressive symptoms in mothers and fathers, and parents’ differential effects on child social-emotional, cognitive, and language development at 18 months of age. Further, we investigate whether effects of depressive symptomatology on child outcomes are particularly strong when both parents evinced high symptom loads and whether parenting stress mediates associations between perinatal depressive symptoms and child developmental outcomes. The study used data from 1036 families participating in a community-based study from mid-pregnancy until 18 months postpartum. Depressive symptoms were assessed at seven time points (four prenatally). Within a structural equation framework, we found that parental perinatal depressive symptoms predicted child social-emotional functioning, specifically externalizing, internalizing, and dysregulation problems, as well as language developmental delay at 18 months. Controlling for postnatal symptoms we found no independent effect of prenatal depressive symptoms on any child outcomes. A differential effect was evident, linking maternal symptoms to social-emotional outcomes, and paternal symptoms to language outcomes. There was no evidence of stronger associations between depressive symptoms and child outcomes when both parents showed high symptom loads. However, parenting stress mediated most relations between parental depressive symptoms and child outcomes. Findings demonstrate the importance of including paternal depressive symptoms in both clinical and research contexts.


Perinatal depressive symptoms Social-emotional development Language development Parenting stress 



This research was supported by grant #196156 from the Research Council of Norway.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in the study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee (approved by the Regional Committees for Medical and Health Research Ethics in Norway) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

All participants provided informed consent.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Eastern and Southern NorwayOsloNorway

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