Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Child Behavior Problems in a Nationally Representative Normal Birthweight Sample

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ObjectiveTo evaluate the association between maternal depressive symptoms and child behavior problems in a nationally representative sample of U.S. mothers of normal birthweight babies.MethodsWe analyzed data from the 1988 National Maternal and Infant Health Survey (NMIHS) and a 1991 follow-up survey. Depressive symptoms were measured at both surveys using the CES-D, and child behavior problems were assessed by maternal self-report at follow-up.ResultsApproximately 28% of the 5303 mothers reported depressive symptoms at a mean of 17 months after delivery, as did 20% at 36 months. In multivariate analyses, women with depressive symptoms at either or both surveys were significantly more likely than women without depressive symptoms to report that their children had frequent temper tantrums or difficulty getting along with other children, and were difficult to manage, unhappy, or fearful. Compared to women without depressive symptoms, the risks of reporting three out of the five child behavior problems for women with depressive symptoms were OR = 1.6 (CI = 1.1–2.1), 1988 only; OR = 2.3 (CI = 1.6;3.3), 1991 only; and OR = 3.6 (2.6–5.0), both 1988 and 1991.ConclusionsStudy findings indicate that a substantial proportion of mothers of young children in the United States experience depressive symptoms and that their children are at significantly increased risk of maternally reported behavior problems. Our results suggest that efforts to identify and treat depression in new mothers should be increased and that mothers whose children are found to have behavior problems should be assessed for depression.

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