What is it about?

This study focuses on symptoms of anxiety and depression among a community sample of 193 mothers during the first 12.5 years after birth. Mothers reported on their depression and anxiety symptomatology at the child’s age of 3, 6, and 12 months, and at 2.5, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12.5 years. For one third of the mothers, the level of symptoms reported at one or more of these time points was indicative of a clinical-level depressive or anxiety disorder. This risk became mainly visible during the first year after birth. When the children were 12.5 years old, both mothers and children reported on children’s emotional and behavioural problems. Because mothers were followed during a longer period of time, we were able to distinguish between the stable and transient parts of their symptoms. This way, we were able to study whether a chronic level of relatively mild symptoms relates differently to the child’s development compared to symptoms with a shorter duration. Results showed that the majority of maternal symptomatology is stable over time. These stable symptoms jeopardize the child’s development: children of mothers with chronic mood symptoms also report more symptoms of anxiety and depression themselves. Thus, chronic, low-level maternal symptoms of anxiety and depression seem to be associated with mood symptoms of children in early adolescence. This means that prevention and treatment of maternal symptoms of anxiety and depression might be worthwhile, regardless of the severity of these symptoms.

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Why is it important?

This study is important because it shows that enduring maternal symptomatology, regardless of its severity, seems to be associated with children’s development, not only at a preschool age but also when they are transitioning to secondary school.


This publication shows the importance of studying sub-clinical symptoms of psychopathology among a universal population of parents (thus parents who were not selected based on their risk for developing depression or anxiety during the transition to parenthood). Even mild, sub-clinical anxiety and depression symptomatology, once developed during the early postpartum period, seems to be stable over time and constitutes a risk factor not only for the parents' well-being but also for healthy child development.

Marjolein Missler
Utrecht University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The first 12.5 years of parenthood: A latent trait-state occasion model of the longitudinal association between maternal distress and child internalizing and externalizing problems., Developmental Psychology, July 2021, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/dev0001203.
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