Pregnant moms and depression: Study links rising symptoms to
Researchers recently published seven-year study, which tracked mothers and their offspring from preconception until the children were 5 years old, is the first to demonstrate how changes in mothers' level of depression over time may impact early childhood behavior and emotional well-being.

For the two-part study, the researchers first analyzed data on 362 women—most of whom were Black or Hispanic and from low-income backgrounds—collected as part of a study by the Community Child Health Network, a collaboration among health scientists from UCLA and other institutions, along with community partners, that investigated disparities in maternal and child health among poor and minority families. The women, all of whom already had a young child, were followed through a subsequent pregnancy and were interviewed on four occasions about their symptoms of depression—once before becoming pregnant, twice during pregnancy and again approximately three months after their baby's birth—with researchers tracking how these symptoms changed over time. Just under 75% of the women reported low symptoms of depression that didn't change over the study period, while 12% had low symptoms that significantly increased and 7% had persistently high symptoms.

For the second part of the study, the researchers followed 125 of these women several years later. When their children were 4, or preschool age, the mothers were asked to describe in detail their child's temperament and behavior—particularly their experiences of emotional distress and their ability to regulate their emotions. Then, at age 5, the children performed a task requiring focused attention. Looking at an iPad screen showing a series of fish, they were asked to identify the direction the fish in the middle was facing while ignoring the direction of all the other fish. Higher scores on this task reflect a greater ability to concentrate and inhibit attention to surrounding stimuli.

Children whose mothers experience rising levels of depression from the period before pregnancy until the months just after giving birth are at greater risk of developing emotional, social and academic problems during their youth.