Maternal Depression and How It Affects Children

Maternal depression is a common mental health issue affecting many women during pregnancy and after delivery. Studies have shown that this condition is most prevalent among pregnant women, who form the group most vulnerable to stressors.

Of critical consideration is that maternal depression does not only affect the mother but may also pose significant effects to the child’s developmental spheres, including social, cognitive, and physical development or wellbeing. This informs the need to provide sustainable welfare to the mother, as this forms a strong foundation for the wellbeing of the child.


Common risk factors of maternal depression

The solution to maternal depression is founded on the knowledge of the (probable) causative factors. Maternal depression is coined to be an array of potential causes or risk factors. The following are some of the major causes of this condition.

  • Physical changes – pregnancy is associated with a realm of bodily changes, such as swellings and weight gains, which amount to the loss of body figures. Some women (especially young women) may feel less attractive and struggle with the sense of their identity. The lack of acclimatizing to these sudden changes might cause stress and gradually depression.
  • Emotional issues – pregnancy and childbirth elicit maternal responsibilities to the mother. However, some women endure a period of self-questioning and might ensure strong anxiety questioning their abilities to cater for pregnancy and newborn after delivering, especially if they have no stable source of income or support. Emotions are also common in cases of unwanted pregnancies occurring among under-aged or elderly females or emanating from rape or other unwanted/unexpected means.
  • Changes after delivery – after giving birth, women undergo a dramatic hormone (progesterone and estrogen) drop in the body, which is a major contributor to postpartum depression.
  • Potential for loss of jobs or scholarships – some companies or schools place strict policies on issues of pregnancies. For instance, in some, ladies are discharged on diagnosis with pregnancy. On learning about her positive pregnancy status, a woman may succumb to depression.
  • Other risk factors-other potential causes of maternal depression include difficulty breastfeeding, sustained problems with spouse, pregnancy complications (such as learning that the child has some deformities), learning that she will sire twins, triplets, etc., and does not have a stable support system, among others.

What are the common effects of maternal depression?

Maternal depression may cause harmful effects to the mother and to the child. Maternal effects include poor quality of life, characterized by difficulty sleeping, lost moods, irritability, poor appetite, constant fatigue, and anhedonia.  Maternal depression is also a contributor to preeclampsia, spontaneous abortions, and other chronic health complications, such as diabetes, blood pressure issues, and heart problems which may further complicate the health status of the child.

Maternal depression elicits a host of problems in the child. Among the common issues include:

  • Low milk supply – Maternal depression is one of the major causes of poor milk supply, especially during the first weeks of giving birth. Depression catalyzes the release of some hormones such as cortisol, which causes a dramatic decline in your milk supply. Depression may literally cause no milk supply for the baby, which increases chances of malnutrition and related effects, such as poor immunity development.
  • Mother-child detachment – persistent maternal depression might also negatively impact maternal emotional sensitivity, attitudes, and responsiveness towards the child. In extreme levels, maternal depression might lead to child neglect. The loss of attachment might lead to reduced empathy for the child and increased potential for child harming or child maltreatment.
  • Higher risk of intrauterine growth restriction, which includes preterm and underweight births-maternal depression is a major cause of preterm births. Due to being born before time, these children are vulnerable to illnesses. They also suffer a great risk of suffering mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
  • Behavioral development issues – children born of mothers suffering maternal depression are at increased risks of developing behavioral developmental problems. These issues include depression, anxiety, irritability, protective styles of associating, anger and withdrawal.
  • Poor cognition – maternal depression poses a huge risk of poor cognitive development in the child. This is mainly noted through slow mastery of language, slow internalizing of what is taught in class and generally poor academic performance.


The health and wellbeing of the mother remain a critical determinant of the child’s welfare. Prenatal and postpartum maternal depression has been found to cause a variety of harmful effects to the mothers, which are then passed to the innocent child. More importantly, some of these effects are irreversible, meaning that they will affect the child throughout his/her life. Prevention of maternal depression is thus an important factor in ensuring the lifelong health of the child.  The following strategies may be critical in preventing the susceptibility of the mother to maternal depression.

  • Exercise – Exercise may be the last thing a mom may feel like doing, especially when undergoing stressful episodes during pregnancy. However, exercise such as yoga can be very helpful in suppressing depressors and harmful moods, by catalyzing the release of mood-improving endorphins. Happiness for the mother directly translates to a happy child. Exercise does not only mean running or jogging, but also walks or simple swims. You can thus have adequate physical exercise by just going for a short walk or a swim twice a week.
  • Eating a balanced diet – foods play a significant role in affecting the mental health of a mother, especially during pregnancy and while suckling. Deficiency of the food to essential nutrients, such as iron and omega-3s is linked to maternal depression.
  • Avoidance of drugs, such as alcohol, cigarettes, and recreational drugs – drugs are coined to the onset and elevation of depressive symptoms, especially among women. Taking a firm step to avoiding drug usage is thus an essential step to avoiding susceptibility to maternal depression and its effects on your child.
  • Getting enough sleep – sleep is important in enhancing the quality of life and deviating potential stressors. Always ensure you have 7-9 hours of sleep.
  • Save enough when expectant – having a backup saving may save you the hustle and stress of thinking about how you will bring up your child before going back to work.
  • Avoid avoidable unwanted pregnancies – some unwanted pregnancies are avoidable, by the use of contraceptives during consensual sexual engagements.
  • Be flexible to accept results and move on – Always accept bodily changes during pregnancy. This will help you live happier maternal life.

Whenever in need of support, you can always seek mental health counseling here.

Last Updated on September 22, 2021