Turns out, depression in mothers may have long-term effects on their children’s stress and physical well-being. In a new study, researchers followed 125 children from birth to 10 years. At 10 years, mother’s and children’s cortisol (CT) and secretory immunoglobulin (s-IgA)–markers of stress and the immune system–were measured, mother-child interaction was observed, mothers and children underwent psychiatric diagnoses, and children’s externalizing and internalizing symptoms were reported.
Depressed mothers had higher CT and s-IgA levels and displayed more negative parenting, characterised by negative effect, intrusion, and criticism. Children of depressed mothers tended to exhibit certain psychiatric disorders, having higher s-IgA levels, and displayed greater social withdrawal.
Senior author Dr. Ruth Feldman said, “Following mothers and children across the first decade of life, we found that exposure to maternal depression impairs the functioning of the child’s immune system and stress response. Such disruptions to the child’s stress and immune system, in turn, led to greater child psychopathology.”
He added, “We also found that the impairments to the child’s stress response and immunity were shaped by similar effects of the depression on the mothers’ stress and immune system and their consequent impact on reducing the quality of maternal caregiving.”