By Margarita Nahapetyan
Children whose mothers experienced depression during pregnancy are four times more likely to become aggressive, anti-social and violent later in life, reveals a long-term child development study.
The new study from the United Kingdom also says that the depressed moms-to-be were likely to be aggressive in their own teen years, and therefore the experts believe that there is some biological link to this phenomenon when the moms' history predicts their own children's antisocial behavior.
To come up with this conclusion, researchers at Cardiff University, King's College London and the University of Bristol examined the role of women's depression in pregnancy by looking at 120 British teenagers from urban areas. The children's mothers were interviewed while they were pregnant, after they gave birth, and when their children were four, eleven and sixteen years old.
The study found that teenagers born to mothers who experienced depression in pregnancy were 4 times as likely to have children who showed violent behavior by the age of 16. While 8.5 per cent of teens born to chipper expecting moms were found to show the antisocial behaviors, about 29 per cent of those born to depressed moms showed the same. This was true for both boys and girls. The results held even after accounting for mothers' anxiety and depression prior to getting pregnant, smoking and consuming alcohol during pregnancy, and the childrens' exposure to depressed mothers.
It was revealed that one-third of the children of the depressed mothers had been arrested or diagnosed with a conduct disorder by the time they turned sixteen. Of these 88.9 per cent had been arrested and 45 per cent had committed violent acts, including theft from other people, violent disorder, fighting, carrying a weapon, and assault.
The link between maternal depression during pregnancy and risk of children's antisocial and violent behavior remained relatively constant in analyses controlling for family environment, such as social class, ethnicity, family structure, the mothers' age, education, marital status, IQ, or depression at other times in the children's lives. This link also could not be explained by other factors in the families' environments such as mothers' substance use during pregnancy, and parental antisocial and violent behavior.
The study's lead author Dale F. Hay, a professor of psychology at Cardiff University, said that although it is not yet clear precisely how depression during pregnancy might set small children on a pathway toward increased anti-social and violent behavior later in life, the new findings suggest that women with a history of behavioral problems who become depressed while expecting a child may be in special need of support.
The new research is published in the January/February 2010 issue of the journal Child Development.