A study conducted in Finland revealed that mothers who maintained better mental health during pregnancy generally have children who experience fewer psychiatric issues later in life. The study examined positive affect, curiosity, and social support of mothers during pregnancy and their children’s psychiatric problems between 2 and 18 years of age. The study was published in the Development and Psychopathology.
Psychological well-being is a multifaceted concept encompassing an individual’s mental and emotional state. It reflects one’s overall happiness and life satisfaction, characterized by positive emotions like happiness and gratitude. Psychological well-being involves participation in meaningful activities, sustaining supportive relationships, and possessing resilience to recover from setbacks.
The significance of psychological well-being is especially pronounced during pregnancy. Pregnant women undergo substantial physical changes and shifts in their social roles while transitioning to parenthood. Research consistently shows that poor maternal mental health during pregnancy, marked by symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress, correlates with psychiatric issues in children, persisting through childhood and adolescence. However, most studies have concentrated on negative mental health aspects, with few exploring how positive maternal mental health influences children’s psychiatric outcomes.
To bridge this research gap, Anna Lähdepuro and her colleagues investigated whether positive maternal mood, curiosity, and social support during pregnancy are linked to lower psychiatric issues in children, and if these relationships vary based on the child’s gender.
The researchers analyzed data from the Prediction and Prevention of Preeclampsia and Intrauterine Growth Restriction (PREDO) study. This study involved pregnant women who attended their first ultrasound screening between the 12th and 13th week of pregnancy at ten Finnish hospitals. Initially, 4777 women were recruited, each delivering a single live child between 2006 and 2010. Due to various factors, including study demands, the final sample comprised 2636 mother-child pairs.
During the pregnancy, the mothers filled out bi-weekly paper questionnaires, assessing their positive affect, curiosity, depressive symptoms, and perceived social support. They also reported on their children’s psychiatric issues during two follow-up periods – early childhood (1.5 to 5 years) and late childhood (6 to 18 years).
The results indicated that children of younger, single mothers with lower education levels and substance use history, as well as children with lower birth weights and boys, showed higher rates of psychiatric problems during both early and late childhood.
Children whose mothers had higher levels of positive mental health during pregnancy – characterized by curiosity, positive mood, and social support – exhibited fewer psychiatric problems. These associations remained significant even after adjusting for various potential confounding factors. The positive impact of maternal mental health during pregnancy on children’s psychiatric health was observed irrespective of the mother’s other mental health indicators.
Mothers with higher positive mental health during pregnancy typically maintained these levels during their children’s childhood. Positive mental health indicators during these periods were also linked to fewer psychiatric issues in children. These relationships between maternal mental health and children’s psychiatric health were similar for both genders.
The authors of the study concluded, “In this prospective pregnancy cohort study, higher levels of positive maternal mental health during pregnancy were associated with lower levels of total, internalizing, and externalizing psychiatric problems in children both in early childhood and in late childhood and these associations were independent of several sociodemographic factors and of negative maternal mental health before or during pregnancy or by early childhood and late childhood.”
“Positive maternal mental health during pregnancy was also associated with change in total psychiatric problems in children from early childhood to late childhood: psychiatric problems increased only among children of mothers with low levels of positive mental health during pregnancy. The associations between positive maternal mental health during pregnancy and lower total psychiatric problems in children were detected among mothers with and without negative mental health before or during pregnancy.”
The study sheds light on the links between mental health of mothers and their children. However, it should be noted that analyses reported in the study do not allow any cause-and-effect conclusions to be drawn from the data. Additionally, many mothers dropped out from the study during its course. This could have influenced the results.
The paper, “Positive maternal mental health during pregnancy and psychiatric problems in children from early childhood to late childhood”, was authored by Anna Lähdepuro, Marius Lahti-Pulkkinen, Polina Girchenko, Pia M. Villa, Kati Heinonen, Jari Lahti, Riikka Pyhälä, Hannele Laivuori, Eero Kajantie, and Katri Räikkönen.