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Depression in pregnancy tied to antisocial behaviour in teenagers

05 February 2010

Pregnant women silhouette

Psychologists from Cardiff’s School of Psychology have published new evidence revealing children from urban areas whose mothers suffer from depression during pregnancy are more likely than others to show antisocial behaviour, including violent behaviour, later in life.

Furthermore, women who are aggressive and disruptive in their own teen years are more likely to become depressed in pregnancy, so that the mothers’ history predicts their own children’s antisocial behaviour.

The new longitudinal study, which also involved colleagues from Bristol University and King’s College London and appears in the January/February 2010 issue of the journal Child Development, examines the role of mothers’ depression during pregnancy by looking at 120 British youth from inner-city areas.

Professor Dale F. Hay from the School of Psychology, said; "Much attention has been given to the effects of postnatal depression on young infants but depression during pregnancy may also affect the unborn child."

The youths’ mothers were interviewed while they were pregnant, after they gave birth, and when their children were 4, 11, and 16 years old.

The study found that mothers who became depressed when pregnant were four times as likely to have children who were violent at 16. This was true for both boys and girls. The mothers’ depression, in turn, was predicted by their own aggressive and disruptive behaviour as teens.

The link between depression in pregnancy and the children’s violence couldn’t be explained by other factors in the families’ environments, such as social class, ethnicity, or family structure; the mothers’ age, education, marital status, or IQ; or depression at other times in the children’s lives.

Professor Hay, said: "Although it’s not yet clear exactly how depression in pregnancy might set infants on a pathway toward increased antisocial behaviour, our findings suggest that women with a history of conduct problems who become depressed in pregnancy may be in special need of support."

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