Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Weight-Related Parenting Behaviors


This study examined associations between mothers’ depressive symptoms and parenting behaviors related to children’s nutrition and physical activity. Data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort, a nationally representative study of children from infancy through kindergarten entry. Contemporaneous and lagged associations between maternal depressive symptoms and mothers’ parenting behaviors were tested, controlling for background characteristics. The mediating effect of use of a physician’s office or clinic as a source for routine care was tested. At each wave, between 18 and 20 % of mothers were considered as having moderate or severe depressive symptoms. These mothers were 1.3 percentage points more likely to put their infants to bed with a bottle, 2.6 percentage points less likely to have rules about the foods their children eat, and their children were 3.0 percentage points less likely to be in bed by 9:00 p.m. than mothers lacking depressive symptoms. These mothers also reported that their families ate dinner together fewer nights per week, and their children watched more television per day, than non-depressed mothers. The use of a physician’s office or clinic partially mediated associations between maternal depressive symptoms and whether infants went to bed with a bottle. Interventions that identify maternal depression early may be useful in promoting healthy parenting behaviors and weight outcomes among young children.

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    The reported sample sizes have been rounded to the nearest 50, per NCES regulations regarding disclosure of restricted-use data.


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This project was supported by Grant Number R40MC23630 from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Services and Resources Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Correspondence to Taryn W. Morrissey.

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Morrissey, T.W. Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Weight-Related Parenting Behaviors. Matern Child Health J 18, 1328–1335 (2014).

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  • Maternal depressive symptoms
  • Parenting
  • Nutrition
  • Physical activity