NEWS

Parents With Pre and Postpartum Depression May Pass that Depression on to Their Kids

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Key Takeaways

  • Children born to mothers who are depressed during and after pregnancy are more likely to develop depression by 24-years old.
  • Offspring of mothers who experienced prepartum and postpartum depression had higher depressive symptoms during adolescence, in comparison to offspring whose mothers were not depressed from pregnancy.
  • Exposure to paternal antenatal depression and postnatal depression increased the risk of depression for children.

According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), about 1 out of every 6 adults will experience depression. A study published in BJPsych Open found that the children of mothers who were depressed during and after pregnancy are more likely to develop depression by 24.

Understanding the Research

For this study, researchers assessed parents for antenatal depression at 18 weeks gestation, and postnatal depression at 8 weeks after birth, with screening for depression among their offspring between 10 and 24 years old.

Based on data from 5029 individuals in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, exposure to both maternal antenatal depression and postnatal depression placed offspring at the highest risk for depression, while exposure to paternal antenatal depression and postnatal depression placed offspring also increased the risk of depressive symptoms.

Although this may be the first study to explore offspring depression trajectories in connection with parental perinatal depression, it is a limitation that the sample was predominantly white and middle-class.

More Robust Screening Measures Needed

Psychotherapist, Haley Neidich, LCSW, PMH-C, says, "The initial takeaway from this research speaks to the importance of perinatal folks getting access to proper mental health treatment when symptoms of depression or another perinatal mental health condition may be present."

Neidich explains, "Perinatal persons experiencing depression need access to properly trained perinatal mental health professionals who can help to mitigate the impact of mental health symptoms on the family and improve their ability to recover faster. People should be aware that individuals with perinatal depression should receive treatment from therapists with specialized training in order to receive the highest level of care." 

Neidich says that the statistics are alarming for depression during and after the birth of a child, and are likely under-reported, as she highlights that having a support system is the biggest protective factor for the best treatment outcomes. "All non-birthing parents should be screened by the pediatrician for depression just as birthing people are," she says. 

Haley Neidich, LCSW, PMH-C

Perinatal persons experiencing depression need access to properly trained perinatal mental health professionals who can help to mitigate the impact of their mental health symptoms on the family and improve their ability to recover faster.

— Haley Neidich, LCSW, PMH-C

Neidich explains, "The identification of this risk factor is an important piece of data which should ideally lead to the implementation of more robust screening measures. While the data is powerful, white middle-class individuals are not the highest risk group for lack of access to treatment. This is the case for perinatal BIPOC folks as well as their children. It is essential that the medical community understands the broad range of risk factors and unique experiences of the BIPOC community." 

As a clinician working with the perinatal population, Neidich explains that news coverage of research like this can be deeply triggering, which is why it is crucial to improve screening processes and increase the frequency of screening for perinatal persons, their partners, and their children. "Proper medical education to provide trauma-informed care among all professionals serving this population can bolster resiliency on a micro-level," she says.  

Parents Can Model Coping Skills

Behavioral health medical director at Community Health of South Florida Inc., psychiatrist Howard Pratt, DO, says, “This study’s findings raise the argument of nature versus nurture. Parents should be aware that if they are battling depression, how they manage that challenge will result in teaching the children who live with them how to handle their own mental health challenges. Kids are observing, absorbing, and adopting those behaviors.”  

Howard Pratt, DO

Parents should be aware that if they are battling depression, how they manage that challenge will result in teaching the children who live with them how to handle their own mental health challenges.

— Howard Pratt, DO

When it comes to applying this research, Dr. Pratt highlights the importance of addressing mental health issues early on. “This research confirms that we need to address and recognize mental health issues as early as possible, and even if it is late, we still need to address these issues whether it comes to children or adults,” he says. 

Dr. Pratt explains, "Children tend to do better when they have models for overcoming challenges, for how to grapple with stressors day-to-day. Parents that deal with their own mental health issues in an open and positive way can save their children from having to live in an unstable household and can at the same time teach their kids how to appropriately deal with their own mental health issues when they reach adulthood."

What This Means For You

As this research demonstrates, children of parents with depression during and after pregnancy were more likely to experience depression. Additional mental health screening and support are needed for families to manage depression. Parents who have navigated depression can model appropriate coping skills for mental health with their children.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rajyaguru P, Kwong A, Braithwaite E, Pearson R. Maternal and paternal depression and child mental health trajectories: evidence from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and ChildrenBJPsych Open. 2021;7(5). doi:10.1192/bjo.2021.959

  2. Underwood L, Waldie K, D’Souza S, Peterson ER, Morton S. A review of longitudinal studies on antenatal and postnatal depression. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 2016;19(5). doi:10.1007/s00737-016-0629-1

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