Intergenerational transmission of maltreatment and psychopathology: the role of antenatal depression

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Abstract

Background

Maternal experience of childhood maltreatment and maternal antenatal depression are both associated with offspring childhood maltreatment and offspring adjustment problems. We have investigated the relative impact of maternal childhood maltreatment and exposure to depression in utero on offspring maltreatment and psychopathology.

Method

The sample included 125 families from the South London Child Development Study. A prospective longitudinal design was used. Data on maternal childhood maltreatment, maternal antenatal depression (36 weeks of pregnancy), offspring childhood maltreatment (age 11 years) and offspring adolescent antisocial behaviour and depression (ages 11 and 16 years) were obtained from parents and offspring through clinical interview.

Results

Mothers who experienced childhood maltreatment were significantly more likely to be depressed during pregnancy [odds ratio (OR) 10.00]. Offspring of mothers who experienced only childhood maltreatment or only antenatal depression were no more at risk of being maltreated or having psychopathology; however, offspring of mothers who experienced both maternal childhood maltreatment and antenatal depression were exposed to significantly greater levels of childhood maltreatment and exhibited significantly higher levels of adolescent antisocial behaviour compared with offspring not so exposed. Furthermore, maternal childhood maltreatment accounted for a significant proportion of the variance in offspring childhood maltreatment in only those offspring exposed to depression in utero.

Conclusions

Maternal childhood maltreatment and maternal antenatal depression are highly associated. The co-occurrence of both insults significantly increases the risk of offspring adversity. The antenatal period is an optimum period to identify vulnerable women and to provide interventions.

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