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Mums' Depression in Pregnancy Tied to Antisocial Behaviour in Teenagers

05 February 2010

Children from an inner-city area whose mothers suffer from depression during pregnancy are more likely than others to show antisocial behaviour, including violent behaviour, later in life.

Dr Susan Pawlby of the Section of Perinatal Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, and her colleagues, Professor Hay from Cardiff University and Professor Sharp from the University of Bristol, conducted the study.

The South London Child Development Study, an ongoing, prospective longitudinal study of a cohort of mothers recruited from antenatal clinics in 1986, considered the role of mothers’ depression during pregnancy on the behaviour of the offspring at 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 teenagers, so that the mothers’ history predicts their own children’s antisocial behaviour.

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.

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 we can identify a group of women with a history of conduct problems who become depressed in pregnancy and who may be in special need of support, say the authors.

It is findings from prospective longitudinal research, such as these reported here, that have informed the current research focus of the Sections of Perinatal Psychiatry & Stress, Psychiatry and Immunology, under the leadership of Dr Carmine Pariante. Researchers in the Section  are currently examining the effect that changes in hormones during pregnancy may have on the developing brain of the foetus, and how this may make the babies susceptible to difficulties in regulating their mood, and vulnerable to developing violent behaviour later in life.

The research is published in the January/February 2010 issue of the journal Child Development. It has been supported by grants from the Medical Research Council, the Mental Health Foundation and the South West GP Trust. For a copy of the paper, please click here: ttp://

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