Maternal depression is not only an ongoing struggle for mothers, but research suggests children of depressed mothers can be impacted in multiple ways.
For example, a recent study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders noted that mothers who are depressed have a reduced responsiveness toward infant distress, which can lead to harmful effects on the child.
However, the small pilot study stated that women who received cognitive behavioral therapy treatment had a reduction in their depression and as a result, were also more responsive toward infant distress.
Another study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children ages 4 and 5 were more likely to be short for their age if their mothers were depressed starting around nine months after the child was born.
An article about the study on Medpage Today stated that children of depressed mothers could have an “increased stress response,” which could lead to higher cortisol levels and lower levels of growth hormones. This could lead to a shorter height.
Mothers with depression might practice “poor parenting behaviors and feeding practices” as well, and children might form an insecure attachment with depressed mothers.
The article added that stunted growth at a young age is associated with various negative outcomes, such as poor development, reduced scholastic performance, smaller body size as an adult, and higher levels of death.
Nerina Garcia-Arcement, a licensed clinical psychologist, said in an email that there are many negative health outcomes for children of depressed mothers. For example, children of depressed mothers tend to visit the emergency room more often, and they might even develop depression in their teens.
“A depressed mother often is less responsive to their child's needs (i.e., when distressed, hungry) and does not have the emotional and physical energy to play and cuddle with their child,” Garcia-Arcement said.
“This can be disruptive to forming a secure and healthy emotional bond with each other. When a child does not feel safe and secure they can go on to become isolated, have difficulties making friends and develop anxiety and depression.”